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82 TRW Command Chief retires
82nd Training Wing Command Chief Master Sgt. David Nelson salutes the flag presented to his family during his retirement ceremony May 30, 2012 at Sheppard Air Force Base. Nelson officially retires 1 Sep 2012 after 30 years of service in the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Frank Carter)
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82 TRW Command Chief retires; reflects on job, career

Posted 5/30/2012   Updated 5/31/2012 Email story   Print story


by Dan Hawkins
82nd Training Wing Public Affairs

5/30/2012 - SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- 82nd Training Wing Command Chief Master Sgt. David Nelson's retirement ceremony was held May 30 to honor his 30 years of service to the Air Force.

Nelson, who came to Sheppard three years ago from Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio, Texas, took over as the wing's Command Chief after one year as the 82nd Mission Support Group superintendent. During his first few weeks on the job, he listed taking care of Team Sheppard and their families and establishing the NCO Academy as some of his top priorities.

The 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs office had a chance to sit down with the Chief and talk about the past, present and future as he looks back at his career in the Air Force and his time as the Command Chief.

Question: Back in May 2010 when you took over as the 82 TRW Command Chief, you talked about taking care of families as a major priority. What kinds of things were you able to accomplish in that regard during your tenure?

Nelson: We've completed the 4.7-million-dollar renovation of the Solid Rock Café, the Air Force's showcase student ministry center. Not only do we see over 22,500 student visits per month, but the kitchen facility is heavily used by the families of our students. It's not only a social gathering point, but one of the starting points of building our young military families.

We were also able to work leasing issues will Belfour-Beatty, which now allows student families to move into our Freedom Estate housing area. We're also working the possibility of Balfour-Beatty minimally furnishing a few of these homes, to specifically target those families that do not receive household good privileges.

Question: You also talked about the challenge of bringing in the NCO Academy. How has the NCO Academy developed from the time you came on board to now?

Nelson: This endeavor has been a phenomenal success across all aspects. We've been able to utilize a showcase facility that was vacated when the 882d Training Group moved to Fort Sam Houston. Under Chief Master Sgt. Steve Mihal's leadership, we've built a first-class professional military education institution that provides our Air Force the trained NCOs our Airmen need and we've seen the Academy grow to nine flights and 130-plus students per class.

Question: Do you feel you were able to accomplish everything in this job you set out to?

Nelson:  I don't believe you're ever able to accomplish everything you set out to do when you walk in to a new job, but we got the ball rolling on quite a few projects and we have a few more in the queue.

We've seen the demolition of several dilapidated facilities, saving well over 2.4 million dollars in annual energy and maintenance costs. We have gone after funding to initiate much needed renovations to several other facilities and dormitories.

While Maj. Gen. Burke and I tried to visit as many detachments as we could, we didn't come close to making it to all 60 detachments. However, we were able to get out to many that had not been visited by wing leadership in almost 10 years. We were able to see the great things our instructors and support personnel our doing in support of operational wings and civil engineering ITRO courses across the globe. I like to think our presence made an impact on the morale of these members of Team Sheppard; I know it did on the General and me.

The Chiefs have worked together to reduce wing augmentation requirements by 40 percent, allowing more flexibility within our groups to meet wing requirements.

We're also going full steam-ahead with establishing our Royal Saudi Air Force F-15 maintenance training courses. It's been challenging to say the least, but our people are getting it done and getting it done right, just like they always do.

Question: What has been the best part about being the wing's top enlisted advisor to the commander?

Nelson: The best part of being the Command Chief for the 82nd Training Wing is the daily interaction with 4,500 brand new Airmen and 1,800-plus permanent party Airmen. Add to that mix our exceptional civilian employees and dedicated contractors and it all adds up to being part of the best team in the Air Force. I have learned so much from so many people by simply walking around and talking to them.

Lastly, I'd say it's the ability for the Command Chief to go into the commander's office and talk about anything. The relationships I've had with both Maj. Gen. Burke and Brig. Gen. Fantini enabled me to support the men and women of the 82nd Training Wing in the best manner possible.

Question: What challenges do enlisted personnel at Sheppard face right now?

Nelson:  I believe the biggest challenge we face right now is with the economy and the difficult financial decisions we're making to deal with shortfalls we're facing this year and across the next couple of years. Every day we look for ways to be more efficient and better stewards of our nation's resources. Yet, we have a culture of never saying "no" and getting the job done, no matter what. It's how we're wired; the mission simply does not fail. In today's world, we need to know when to say "I can continue to do this and this, but not this."

We've been in tough fiscal times before. I remember bringing in our own bathroom tissue and pens because there was no money for supplies and going around trading cleaning supplies for paper so we could type (yes type) our reports. I also remember a time when promotions across the Air Force were placed on hold for months. So, while things may look bleak for some, I believe we're in an exciting time; a time to make difficult, yet wide-reaching decisions. A time where everyone has the opportunity to make a positive impact on our Service's future and I truly believe we'll be a better Air Force at the other end"

Question: This assignment closes out a 30 year AF career for you....what are your feelings as you get ready to enter the next phase of your life?

Nelson: Our Air Force is in very good hands. Our Airmen are excited about what they're learning, what they're doing and the opportunities that lie before them. Every day I am amazed by the enthusiasm, dedication, and drive of young men and women. While I'll miss putting on my uniform and serving our great nation, I know it's my time to step down and turn the mantle over to the next person. It's how we keep moving forward and keep getting better. I've been blessed to finish my career with the best job in the Air Force. There's no place I'd rather be and no one I'd rather be closing out this phase of my life than with the men and women of the 82d Training Wing and Team Sheppard. Over the past two years, you all have made my job incredibly easy and richly rewarding.

Question:  What was the most favorite part of your AF career?

Nelson:  Some people will say the travel, and that's been great. We got to spend seven years in Europe and I've had jobs that have taken me all over the world. But the most favorite part of my career was and always will be the people. It's why we serve and continue to serve. Every day I became a better Airman because of the interaction I had with the members of Team Sheppard. The friends we have made over the past 30 years have greatly enriched our lives and we keep in touch with many of them to this day. 

Question:  Do you have a message for Team Sheppard as you leave the base and the Air Force?

Nelson:  As I close out my time as an active duty member of our great Air Force, I want to say a special thank you to all the men and women of Team Sheppard. It has meant the world to Debbie and me to serve you and your families as your Command Chief team over the past two wonderful years. There is no other assignment or location we would have rather closed out this chapter of lives than right here in Wichita Falls with all of you. Your genuine friendship and caring has been inspiring, while your unparalleled professionalism and dedication has made my job incredibly easy. Our wing has reached great heights because of each and every one of you; it has been my honor and absolute pleasure to serve alongside you during these endeavors. Thank you Team Sheppard for making our final assignment such a memorable one.

Nelson, who officially retires 1 Sep 2012, will be replaced as the wing's top enlisted leader by Chief Master Sgt. Eric Johnson, who will be coming to Sheppard from the 56th Operations Group at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. this summer.

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