CMSAF #8: 'There's a reason you serve'

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Timothy Kim
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs


A 17-year old Sam Parish enlists to a seven-year old Air Force December 1954. Fast forward a few years, Parish is the youngest seven-level skill in his career field and promotes to chief master sergeant at the age of 31.

In 1973, Parish is selected as the Air Weather Service Senior enlisted Advisor, returns to Germany in 1976 as the Consolidated Base Personnel Office Personnel Sergeant Major, and became the senior enlisted advisor for the United States Air Force in 1977, where he established the U.S. Air Forces in Europe First Sergeant of the Year program.

Among some of Parish's accomplishments were: he established a fixed-phase point for promotion to senior airman - which allows initial enlistees a chance for staff sergeant selection during their first tour; he obtained the approval from the Chief of Staff of the Air Force to allow flight line personnel to wear a functional badge on their uniform; and last, but not the least, Parish established the John Levitow Award.

Despite having retired, however, Parish continues to support Airmen by attending service functions and visiting bases throughout the Air Force.


Retired U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Sam Parish, eighth Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, visited the 52nd Fighter Wing's Pitsenbarger Airman Leadership School class 16B Jan. 28, 2016.

"What you're undergoing now is the greatest step taken for the development of our enlisted Airmen in the history of the Air Force," Parish said. "I would have given anything in the world if I could float back to my career when I was an Airman and had someone who told and taught me what it would mean to be an NCO and a supervisor."

His speech focused on themes of success and leading, but it dove beyond the surface level of what it meant to be a leader; Parish discussed how to successfully lead others.

"It will not make you an NCO."


Acknowledging the credibility and capability ALS has for future NCOs, Parish piggybacked his points onto the basic teaching points ALS students learn and encouraged them to understand qualities of a good supervisor. A hint: there's more beyond the pages of a textbook.

"I guarantee you that if you take what is given to you in this course, it will make you a better supervisor," Parish said. "But I'll guarantee you something else - take everything they give you in this course and everything you can get in a book, it will not make you an NCO."

Selflessness is a concept Airmen learn from basic military training, but Parish encourages all to look into the Airman's Creed of "I will never leave an Airman behind."

"The right reason was given when you do things that didn't entail you," Parish sad. "When you do something and you can say to yourself, 'I think today I might be an NCO because I did the right thing - I laid it all on the line' for someone else, you have now become an NCO."

Responsibility and accountability are traits that make a good Airman, but they are traits that are necessary, Parish implores, that a great leader holds.

"You're not going to become an NCO until you wake up, one day, pin on that staff sergeant stripe, look in the mirror one morning and say, 'Oh my gosh, my whole career could've gone down the tube yesterday based on my actions,'" Parish said.

"You develop a monster."


Monsters - in the case of Parish's speech - refer not to the Grimm Fairy Tales or storybooks. In the instance of Parish's words, monsters refer to those that possess great capability and capacity to perform feats that most would falter at the thought of accomplishing. For leaders, the goal should be to focus on creating an unstoppable Airman.

"Mentorship is not about telling you how to get promoted," Parish said. "It's not about telling you where you need to go to be successful in life. To me, mentorship is making you do things you know you can't do, then giving you the job anyway and making sure you don't fail while you do it. You get somebody, you do that to them two to three times and guess what happens? You develop a monster. They're not afraid to do anything in the world that leadership asks them to do, because they feel that the leader would not ask them to do it unless they had it in their mind to do it. There's always a safety net to catch you when you start to slip or slide."

Parish compared his days of being an Airman and how he searched for mentors. Relative to today, it was an unrefined process in which professional development was but a thought, not a course.

"We got ours [mentorship] by osmosis," Parish said. "We didn't have mentors in those days. We had role models and you found somebody that looked sharp to you and you tried to emulate them. We're going to step farther though aren't we? We're teaching you things that will make you a better NCO and you can't be a supervisor until you're an NCO in the Air Force. Therefore, I'm hoping that we're giving you some information that's going to make you a better supervisor."

"Supervision doesn't end when the shift ends."


Referring to the First Term Airman Center upstairs, Parish pointed out that the new Airmen upstairs could become troops to the future NCOs to whom he was speaking. When in a position of leadership, an NCO should not take the approach of leaving their troop in someone else's hands, but should ensure their Airmen are taken care of even outside the office.

"Supervision is something that continues to go," he said. "The cohesiveness we have, we can never forget that's what gets us to where we're going in the life, in the Air Force; it gets the mission done. As a supervisor, you can influence your troop's life incredibly."

Parish expands on his accounts of how important cohesion was to his development in his professional and personal life.

"I like what I was doing, and I like the people I was doing it with," Parish said. "Because there's nobody and nowhere on earth where you can find a collective group of people in a company or corporation where everybody has the same ideal and the same goal; and your goal is to be the best that you can be at whatever you're doing. It's not a matter of what you do, but how you do it."


Many as there may be a reason for a person to enlist and continue to serve, Parish insists upon the sense of unity Airmen attain during their career.

"I don't care why you joined - you're here," he said. "You're wearing a uniform, you're proud of it, you're providing service to your nation and you're doing something less than two percent of Americans will ever do in their life! We don't do it for money, do we? A senior airman with four years in service makes more than I did when I retired as a Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force in base pay. What I'm saying is, there's a reason you serve and it's not money."

Leading, according to Parish, depends upon the NCO's capacity to care and to extend their services to their troops. Leading from a textbook sense may be a teachable moment, but leading from personal experience is something personally attained.

"Success is simply leaving your job better than you found it," Parish said. "But true success is leaving someone better qualified in their job."

Parish continued to visit other groups, not just the Pitsenbarger ALS Class 16B. For his visits on Spangdahlem, he spread a universal message, tailored slightly to target the audience to whom he was speaking.


When asked what his challengers were during his enlistment period, Parish shared his thoughts - one that continues to burden and motivate him further to this day. Perhaps, one that compels him to see the faces of the new generation of future U.S. Air Force leaders; a passing of the torch.

"My most difficult challenge in the Air Force was to be able to serve and do what I thought was the right thing to do for the people who were with me, around me and who were going to follow me," said Parish. "I don't think I've gotten over that yet."


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