Wisdom over easy

  • Published
  • 15th Wing Public Affairs

I was told by my leadership to have breakfast at the Hale Aina Dining Facility to hear a retired chief master sergeant speak. I woke up early and drove from the west side of the island to base. After an hour commute, I made myself a peanut butter and jelly bagel and sat down for breakfast. I didn’t know what to expect, but I didn’t expect advice to resonate with me in such a powerful way.

“Friendship and trust are everything,” are the words retired Chief Master Sgt. Todd Simmons repeated during a breakfast with Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam NCOs.

Simmons swore he would never go to an Air Force base as a retired chief master sergeant, because after 25 years of service, he said he would enjoy being retired from the military. Then he received a message from Chief Master Sgt. Steven Koehler, Wing command chief, asking him to come visit Hickam Field.

The first lesson I learned from Simmons is fostering healthy relationships.

The chief explained he has a few relationships from the Air Force that rival the relationships he has with his family. He said if he could change one thing about the Air Force, he would try and make the culture more geared toward developing healthy relationships at work. 

Simmons also touched on the importance of educating himself.

He recalled that as much as he enjoyed getting advice from friends, he also read and fact checked the information he received. As an example, he read the Air Force Instructions, and knew how to take control of his career, allowing him to stay overseas for 17 years, and for his family to remain in Japan while he was stationed in Korea.

Simmons also expressed the importance of making sure Airman have the tools to be successful.  He explained the people who should be getting promoted are the ones who care and invest in those under them. He said you have to be ready to lead people because you never know when you might be needed.

Simmons found himself in a similar situation when he was a master sergeant. Everyone who was higher ranking than him was either on leave, TDY, or deployed when his Airman, Senior Airman Nicholas Alden, was killed during the 2011 Frankfurt Airport shooting. Gen. Mark Welsh, who was the U.S. air forces in Europe commander at the time, called him on the phone asking who was in charge and what happened.

Simmons was responsible for informing Alden’s wife about the tragedy. Afterward, because he was blaming himself for the death of Alden, he went to mental health. It took a while, but Simmons was able to pull himself out of a dark place. He was in shock following the incident, but he was glad he was in charge when it happened, because he was able to grow from the incident as he looked after his Airmen and their families.  

Simmons ended the breakfast on a positive note.

“I was told I was stupid, I was worthless, that I would never graduate basic training, and that I would never become a chief,” said the chief. “Never let anyone tell you what you can do. If you look yourself in the mirror every day and tell yourself you can do anything it becomes addicting. I went back to high school to finish classes as an airman first class to and eight years later I had two master’s degrees. If someone tells me I can’t do something that fuels me like jet fuel.”

If you would like to hear Simmons speak, he will be at the Hickam Theater today at 2 p.m.