SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – Chief Master Sgt. Jack Johnson Jr. entered the Air Force on Oct. 25, 1984, having grown up in a military family and following the same path.
Almost 34 years later, the Hampton, Virginia-native came to Sheppard AFB Aug. 24, 2018, to share some words of wisdom with a new generation of senior noncommissioned officers during an induction ceremony at the Sheppard Club. The ceremony would be the last time Johnson would wear a mess dress as he gave a speech outfitting the newest SNCOs with words about moral and lawful respect, telling them to not use the rank to lead, but their principles and ideals to lead the new generation.
Johnson, who is the longest serving chief master sergeant currently in the Air Force and the command senior enlisted leader for NATO’s North American headquarters at Supreme Allied Command Transformation, said he was excited for the opportunity to share his thoughts with the next crop of SNCOs, but it was more than Airmen transitioning from technical sergeant to master sergeant.
“To much is given, much is expected,” he said. “After 34 years and 2 months, I’ll retire from the Air Force, and its time. Its time because as I look at our next level of leaders coming in, our challenges around the globe, the challenges around our nation, the challenges within our Air Force, within our wings, within our organizations, they all change. So I’m excited to see our young Airmen as they face the challenges of tomorrow.”
While the chief’s primary task at hand was to speak at the SNCO induction, he also had an opportunity to see Sheppard’s diverse training missions conducted at the 82nd Training Wing and the 80th Flying Training Wing as well as speaking to enlisted members at both wings.
Being the most senior command chief master sergeant in the Air Force, Johnson has a list of assignments that could take more than three or four “American Pies” by Don Mclean to finish reading. Assignments included serving as a first sergeant for nine years and as command chief for 13, serving in more than 70 countries, most of them being countries in Africa.
With those kind of experiences, it’s understandable why Johnson would have some wisdom to pass on to Airmen, including members of the Sheppard’s ALS and the base’s Noncommissioned Officer Academy. The chief said he shared with the Airmen in a joint-session about his experiences that made him the person he is.
Johnson explained how even he is still learning although being a command chief and how he learns from observing other’s admirable qualities, from the junior enlisted to the SNCOs.
“From an Airman, I can see how they communicate, how they annunciate, how they carry themselves,” he said. “Or a noncommissioned officers on how they project themselves at the right place at the right time. Or a senior noncommissioned officer who has the maturity, by building that credibility, building respect and building a relationship. So for me, my success has been taking a little bit from everyone because no one person is the same.”
In his 30-plus years of service, Johnson said he has gathered an amalgamation of skills, leadership styles and principles that he says should be interchangeable, depending on each situation. All this wisdom, all those principles, he said, started when he was a young lad watching his parents lead their own troops as well as their family.
“What I have, which may be a little different than many, is the fact that I was raised in a military family as a small child,” he said. “You’re watching your mother, you’re watching your father, not just as they lead your family, but as they lead others.”
Johnson spoke of how the different homes he has lived in culminated into different ways of thinking. He said he has always respected leadership styles, even though he might not have necessarily agreed with them. He said he still found a takeaway from each.
“For those who didn’t grow up in that type of household, quite frankly in some cases your supervisor, flight chief, or your boss may be that role,” he said. “So never underestimate the importance of a person who guides, who coaches, who leads. For me, I knew early on.”
Johnson said the importance of learning from each leader in an Airman’s life, from parents to supervisors, is all about acquiring more knowledge, more skill sets, more flexibility. He said he doesn’t believe in using the same tactic each time, rather he adapted his leadership style to fit the needs of the Air Force and the needs of his Airmen.
The chief said each level of leadership he achieved during his time in the Air Force required different principles and styles. No two situations are the same, he said, and shouldn’t be approached the same.
“Being able to switch gears whether it’s telling, selling, delegating or directing, you have to use the tools that are most effective to move that Airman in the same direction as the commander’s intent and that’s called maturing,” he said.
Johnson is used to this style of leading because position as command senior enlisted leader for ACT, which includes more than 2 million NCOs from multiple countries, requires “a bit” of flexibility and adaptability if the mission for each country wants to be achieved. He said each country brings different strengths, cultures, ways of life, and profession of arms to the organization.
“But we all have one thing in common, we all want the success, the peace, the security, the territorial integrity of our specific nations,” he said. “There’s an old African proverb, which I really really enjoy. ‘If you want to go fast – go alone, but if you want to go far – go together.’ So we will go together.”
Johnson takes working together to new heights as he explained that his career was based on working with the Air Force to achieve nothing for himself, but everything for the mission. He said all of his successes are a result of what he was able to learn in the Air Force and what it has afforded him over the years.
“All of the things that I have learned throughout our Air Force – building teams and mentors, coaching, guiding, solving – through that I have gotten the privilege of working with the next level, and the next level,” he said. “But I’ll tell you, it wasn’t based on me.”