Academy command chief returns to roots

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Author John Ed Pearce once wrote, "Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to." While the Air Force Academy's top enlisted Airman is by no means old, home is where he plans to return after he retires in a ceremony June 5. 

Chief Master Sgt. Arvin Davis, a native of Sumter, S.C., joined the Air Force in June 1980 in search of something more than the small military town near Shaw Air Force Base could offer. He was 17 and just out of high school. 

"The main reason for me was to get out of town," Chief Davis said. "I couldn't see the textile factory as something that was going to be for me and the lure of the F-4s flying around Sumter sounded exciting to me." 

The Air Force first assigned him to the 2nd Combat Communications Group at Patrick AFB, Fla., but he nearly ended up much closer to home. 

"My original orders were for Myrtle Beach," about an hour's drive east of Sumter, Chief Davis said. "I was like, 'You've got to be kidding me.' But those orders were canceled two days later, and I ended up getting orders to Cocoa Beach instead." 

A supply Airman by trade, Chief Davis' early-career goal was simply to aim for excellence. He intended to serve a four-year enlistment before moving on, but sensing opportunity, he chose to stay in. 

"I wanted to be the best supply tech they had," he said. "As I matured through the Air Force, it gave me the opportunity to show what I could do. I was fortunate to have senior NCOs and commanders who gave me the ball and let me run with it." 

And run he did. 

Shortly after his 10th year in the Air Force, he was promoted to master sergeant, and he pinned on chief's stripes in July 1999 while assigned to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. 

"Germany was the most fun assignment I've had in my career, especially Spangdahlem," Chief Davis said. "I went to experience the culture, and living at Spangdahlem gives you the opportunity to hit Belgium, London, Amsterdam ... it's central to just about everything."

One of his most meaningful assignments was his deployment to the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing in Southwest Asia as command chief for more than 8,000 U.S. and foreign military personnel. 

"You train all these years, with exercises and all the preparation, and when you deploy, you get to see how the puzzle pieces fit together ; our services Airmen, the firefighters, the medics, operators and maintainers come together from all walks of life and just make it happen," he said. "You expect it, and it's no surprise, but it's still great to see it in real time." 

Brig. Gen. Charles Shugg, commander of the 379th said during Chief Davis' deployment, the chief is "a grand American warrior and patriot." 

"He was one of the finest leaders I've had the pleasure to serve with," said General Shugg, now commander of the Joint Unmanned Aerial System Center of Excellence at Creech AFB, Nev. "He was especially focused on the young NCO corps. He spent a considerable amount of time and effort mentoring and teaching leadership points to all the rotational NCOs, and he made sure everyone understood our mission and how they fit into the big picture." 

Culminating Chief Davis' 29-year experience is his two-year tenure as the Academy's command chief, which has allowed him to interact with not only a large enlisted cadre but also with the next generation of Air Force officers. 

"What a critical mission we have," he said. "We're building future Air Force leaders right here. We get so busy sometimes that we don't get to sit back and think about what that means. There's not one single mission element or person who makes this happen -- we all come together to make that happen, and it's just amazing to watch. 

"We have a great first sergeant corps with an uncommon chemistry, an excellent eye for leadership, and a strong senior NCO corps here that's really making the mission happen," the chief continued. "We have such a diverse organizational structure at USAFA, but in the end, year after year, that diverse structure culminates in a very visible 'mission accomplished' when we graduate 1,000 cadets. I appreciate the opportunity that (Superintendent) Lt. Gen. John Regni gave me two years ago to join the team, because it really puts an exclamation point on one's career." 

To cadets, he offers this post-graduation advice: grab a senior NCO, listen to their experience, learn the mission, and learn the way toward becoming a driving force in your unit. Also, remember that who you are is more important than where you came from. 

"People don't follow the degree. They're not interested in where you graduated," he continued. "People respect Airmen who are honest, who hold their subordinates accountable and who lead by example. Graduating from the Air Force Academy gets you in the door, but then you have to earn the respect of the folks you're leading." 

The chief said he has no doubt future officers, 1,046 of whom became second lieutenants here May 27, are capable. 

"They get it," he said. "They're very bright. I'm always confident, because I know that the cadets here are future squadron, group and wing commanders ... many will be general officers, maybe a chief of staff. This is only a foundation, as they have to reflect and fully understand that they'll get opportunities to build on their leadership once they're in the operational Air Force. But they get it." 

What will the future hold for Chief Davis? In the near term, he said he plans to go back to the East Coast, where his Air Force adventure began. 

"My wife, Faye, and I are going to decompress for three months," he said. "After that, we're going back to North Carolina and see how that works out. I always swore I'd never head back home, or even that way; but after you complete your Air Force career, family's all you've got," he said. "Whatever life throws at us, we're looking forward to being around family and letting our roots grow in one place for a while."