Chalk Talk: There’s A New Chief in Town

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Duncan McElroy & Airman 1st Class Travis Beihl
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs

(This interview is Part 6 of an open-ended series featuring question-and-answer sessions with members of Team Keesler.)

Chief Master Sgt. Vegas Clark is an Airman’s Airman.  As the 81st Training Wing’s new command chief, he’s the wing commander’s senior enlisted advisor.  Sitting in this position since August and hot off the plane from his previous command chief assignment at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, this is actually a return trip for Chief Clark, as he attended technical school here 21 years ago.

Though I’ve only spent a little bit of one-on-one time with Chief Clark so far, I can already tell the Wichita, Kansas native will be a great fit for the command team.  Wherever he goes, whether it’s on out and abouts with the wing commander or going through his daily routine, Team Keesler is likely to see Chief Clark sporting a big smile and a genuine interest in every airman, officer, and civilian’s story.

Thanks for sitting down with me, Chief!  So before you became a command chief, tell me, what’d you do in the Air Force?

Chief Clark: I’ve held a lot of unique cyber jobs.  I started out as an information manager.  It seems like yesterday I was here at Keesler learning how to type.

I enjoyed learning about information systems so I migrated over to client systems.  Later, I taught it at the base level before it became centralized in communications squadrons.  There were technicians in the squadrons and I was in charge of training those members.

I’ve had the unique opportunity to work at the base, squadron, group, wing, numbered Air Force and major command levels.  I’ve also served as a mission support group superintendent and being selected for command chief jobs at Incirlik and Keesler AFBs.

What made you want to join the service?

Chief Clark: I was a really good football player in high school.  Back then I ran the ’40 meter dash’ in 4.25 seconds and was getting recruited by numerous colleges, but I was hanging out with the wrong crowd.

I didn’t see it when I was younger but, looking back at it. . .  I truly believe you are the company you keep.  Throughout my four years in high school, several of my friends passed away from poor decisions and my bad decisions caught up with me and cost me my scholarship offers.

I almost joined the Army, but, at the time, my aunt was dating someone from McConnell Air Force Base, which is in my hometown in Kansas, and he gave me a tour.  After the tour, I was sold on the Air Force.  It was because of my Uncle Steve that I joined the Air Force instead of the Army.

How do you think Airmen today are different from Airmen when you joined?

Chief Clark: The number one difference is technology.  When I came in, if you wanted to connect to the internet, you had to wait.  Airmen of today are able to get news, email, and notifications instantly where we had to wait 5-15 minutes for an email to go through.

Young kids are coming into the military with more education, and they have great ideas about getting things done quicker and smarter, and we should be leveraging their awesome talent!

Did you have any major challenges to overcome as an Airmen?

Chief Clark: As a young Airman, I had a hard time trusting people.  I had this ‘I knew everything about how the world works mindset because of all the crazy things I’d seen at a young age.

It took a sharp NCO, my second supervisor, to get on my level and show me how much I did not know.  He changed my outlook and my whole career.  I cannot overemphasize to supervisors how the best thing you can do is establish a relationship and get to know your people.

My supervisor taught me how to save money, buy a car, and then a house.  These tools helped set me up for success and helped me focus on my job.  These tools also forged a bond between a supervisor and Airman.  There is nothing I wouldn’t do for that guy – to this day we’re still friends.

Tell me about your leadership style.

Chief Clark: My leadership style is simple. . .  treat people the way you want to be treated, be engaged with hands-on leadership, and always keeping in mind that every Airman has a story.  I like to get out in the units, talk to Airmen of all ranks and ask what’s going on and learn how we can make things better.

I have a term I like to use called S.L.A.P., which stands for: standards, leadership, accountability and performance.  If we take care of those things, the team will be successful and win.  Ultimately, that is my leadership style.

What’s the best part of being a command chief in the Air Force?

Chief Clark: As a chief, Airmen are coming to you for advice and mentorship.  I think being a chief is one of the greatest responsibilities in the Air Force because you get to develop people, see them grow, and make sure they have the proper focus to carry on our great legacy.

When you change duty stations, you start getting texts from people at your past base about their latest achievements, how much they’ve improved and thanking you for your help.  I love being engaged with people, and I do it because I care.

Now that you’re back here, your career’s kind of come full-circle – how does that feel? You started off as an Airman in training, now you’re the top enlisted leader of our training airmen.

Chief Clark: It’s an honor to be a servant leader at the place that trains the majority of support career fields in our Air Force.  To be a part of that is amazing!  I am absolutely humbled by this opportunity to lead at the same wing I started out in.  I look forward to serving with each of you. . .  this will be an awesome journey.

For many Airmen, including myself, this is their first duty station.  As our chief, what’s the most important thing we should know in this early stage in our careers?

Chief Clark: You may not understand it right now, but you’re a part of something that’s greater than you.  Less than one percent of Americans are serving in the armed forces so you’re already a winner in my book.

My recommendation for the Airmen is to continue working hard and develop good followership.  We will never be perfect, but keep striving and putting in hard work, find yourself a good mentor who has already walked the path and you’ll have a successful career.

You’ll hear me say that hard work is the foundation of being a good Airman and I truly believe it.  Also, don’t forget to take a step back once in a while and take it all in.  To serve and be a part of the world’s greatest Air Force is truly an honor.

So as a member of the Air Force, you’ve got to have a favorite airframe, right?

Chief Clark: It’s the A-10!  When I first joined in 1995, I was assigned to the 70th Fighter Squadron [Moody Air Force Base, Ga.] and we deployed to Al Jaber AB, Kuwait.  I remember seeing tail numbers from the 1970s and 1980s for the years they were put into service.  Fast forward 20 years and I’m the command chief at Incirlik and what shows up? Those old A-10s, taking the fight to ISIS.

Now they’re retrofitted with new technology but they’re the same airframes.  That’s a testament to our Air Force and our maintenance folks and I hope they keep them for another 10-15 years.  Those maintenance folks are the unsung heroes of the Air Force.

Alright, thanks for the chat Chief!  Got anything else for me?

Chief Clark: I’m very excited to be here and it’s an honor to serve in this capacity.  Be on the lookout – in the future I want to implement a command chief shadow program; I want to select our super sharp Dragons and give them a good understanding about what happens at the Wing.