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 Structure.”
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 chief.
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 career-driven.”
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.”
Ford had 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.
Ford 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 leadership role.
“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 weapons manager.
“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 knowledge operator.
“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.
“The 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
Provided through DVIDS
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