SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. – In a long empty corridor of 20th
Operations Group building is an office. At first glance the room is
just a typical office space, but upon closer inspection the room is
lined with countless awards and mementos from a career spanning more
than two decades.
U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Darrel Ford, 20th Operations Group
superintendent, takes a phone call during the course of a busy day,
Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Feb. 8, 2013. Ford has served in the Air
Force for more than 27 years, and has had a long and successful
career in maintenance and now operations. Ford always aims to
inspire others to lead and seek mentorship, he said. (U.S. Air Force
photo by Senior Airman Amber E. N. Jacobs)
On the coffee table next to numerous books about the Air
Force is a little brown book called “The Enlisted Force
And on the left side of the room sits
series of picture frames, each featuring a different fighter
jet and each lined with enough goodbye messages to cover
everything inside the frame except for the jet itself.
One message reads:
“Thank you for all of your
support and leadership. Your guidance has been much
appreciated and made my transition to rockets much easier
and successful. Good luck and hope to see you again,” --
Master Sgt. Tony “GTO” Gollotto.
Another one begins
with the word “Dad.”
After several minutes inside the
room, it is clear that Chief Master Sgt. Darrel Ford, 20th
Operations Group superintendent, has touched the lives of
the many he has led.
To some it might be daunting to
approach the Chief, due to his tall stature and
authoritative roll, but with a quick flash of his warm smile
and a firm grasp of the hand, a type of calming reassurance
flows out of him, the type that you would expect from a
With only one percent of Airmen achieving the
rank of chief master sergeant, the question stands, how did
Ford propel himself to top ranks while growing those around
him along the way?
Growing up, Ford was the youngest
of four children.
“I just did not want to be a burden
on my mother, who was a single parent at the time,” Ford
explained. “When I graduated high school I was working at a
Holiday Inn. I was a pastry chef working my way up. It was
at that point I wanted to do something that was more
Not wanting to spend his life in the
hotel business near the metropolitan area of D.C., Ford
decided to make a change.
“I had some high school
friends who were joining the military and they got me
interested,” he continued. “I knew that if I were to join
the military it would only be the Air Force, and from there
I went to see a recruiter and joined.”
tremendous family support when he entered the service, both
his father and oldest brother served in the military. His
father did one enlistment in the Air Force, while his
brother Lynn had a 20 year career in the Marines.
“Of course my mom is by far my biggest hero since I can
greatly appreciate the sacrifices and overwhelming
challenges she overcame to raise us four kids pretty much by
herself... but I also found my heroes in the different
supervisors that I have had,” said the Chief.
started off his career as an Airman in maintenance working
with different weapon systems.
In the weapons career
field Airmen get an opportunity to lead early in their
careers, explained Ford. When you form a weapon load crew
the crews are composed of three members. Normally a load
crew is run by a staff sergeant or sometimes a senior airman
who has completed ALS, so the Airmen get exposed to leading
very early on in their career.
After a few short
years of service, Ford began to develop into his career and
“When I came into the service, I had
only planned to do four years and get out,” said Ford. “But
half way through my first enlistment I said to myself, ‘You
know what, I'm going to make a career out of this. I'm
really enjoying it.' So my goal changed from four years, to
making master sergeant and getting out at 20 years.”
But Ford's plan changed shortly after making master sergeant
in 14 years.
Being there to force him out of his
comfort zone was Chief Master Sgt. Laforcarte, Ford's former
“Since my background was
maintenance, I was used to working in a certain
environment,” explained Ford. “In maintenance you don't have
to deal with a lot of other agencies since you're on the
flightline. Chief Laforcarte was the one who really
encouraged me by saying ‘hey you need to get out there and
do this, and oh by the way I signed you up for this so you
have no choice you're going to be out there.' He got me
exposed to the different agencies and really instilled the
value of networking, and now I find it second nature.”
As a senior non-commissioned officer, Ford has had the
opportunity to not only lead but to mentor. With a similar
style to his former mentor Laforcarte, Chief Ford goes that
extra step to push his Airmen outside their comfort zones.
“He is always helping me build my confidence as far as
getting me outside of my box and pushing me to do stuff
that's going to help me get further in my career,” reflected
Staff Sgt. Shamika Horton, 20th Operations Support Squadron
“I will come into the office
after having a bad day and I'll say ‘Oh I'm tired of it. I'm
ready to get out I'm just ready for this to be over.' And he
will pull me to the side and have a heart-to-heart,” Horton
added. “He will remind me to look on the bright side because
things are always changing.”
In March, Ford will have
served 28 years in the Air Force.
With his career
coming to a close Ford leads the way by providing advice to
those aspiring to follow in his footsteps.
biggest advice I can offer is to seek that leader, that
mentor, that person that you feel that will give you that
good advice, that will give you that mentorship you are
looking for,” Ford added. “It doesn't have to be from
someone that is older or out ranks you, it could be from the
youngest Airman. We can learn from anybody.”
By USAF Sr. Airman Amber E. N. Jacobs
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