On the cusp of his 20-year mark serving in the Air Force, Chief Master Sgt. Atticus Smith, 388th Fighter Wing command chief, is eager to welcome the next decade of service to a career filled with rewards and challenges.
Smith recently assumed the command chief position in August after serving as the director of education and commandant at the Kirtland Non-Commissioned Officer Academy in New Mexico, and he is now poised to bring his education and experience to the 2,500 Airmen of the 388th FW.
Among the wealth of knowledge Smith looks forward to imparting to his fellow Airmen are his secrets to success that allowed him to achieve his 20 years of service.
"It's actually quite simple: Work hard, obey the rules and seek advice or wisdom from your fellow patriots," Smith said. "The enlisted force structure lays out the responsibilities of each enlisted rank. I am convinced that anyone can be successful in our Air Force by just understanding the clearly stated expectations and executing their duties and responsibilities in accordance with it."
Smith attributes hard work, rather than privileged circumstances, as one reason he elevated through the enlisted ranks to his current position.
"I'm a small town boy, and I didn't grow up in a rich household, I had to earn everything I had when I was a young boy," he said. "If I wanted it, I had to work for it. So I knew what a good, strong workday involved. When I got into the Air Force, no one had to tell me what needed to be done. If I saw an overflowing trash can, I knew that the young Airman would have to take it out so I'd just do it."
Although Smith would require extra motivation from his first-line supervisor, he described himself as a "motivated and enthusiastic young Airman," factors which he feels contributed to his current success. "That can go a long way in our service," Smith said, and notes that with that positive attitude, "I've come to learn that a lot of people will look out for you, ensure you are going down the right path and throw challenges out to you to try to help you succeed and develop."
One person who did just that for Smith was his first supervisor, Staff Sgt. Scott T. Redder, a person he remembers succinctly after two decades.
"He may not have done everything right as a supervisor, but he cared about me, he provided direction, discipline and he recognized my efforts. I attribute much of my success to my initial first-line supervisor, a staff sergeant," Smith said.
"Being a first-line supervisor is an absolutely critical role in the United States Air Force," Smith adds. "Often it is an underestimated role. They really have an opportunity to either make or break a person's initial career in the Air Force. The young Airman coming in from tech school can either be set up for success or completely depressed based on that first-line supervisor.
"It's very hard to overcome your first supervisor if he is a bad supervisor, and often young Airmen get out after their four to six years because of a bad experience with the first supervisor they've had. That is unfortunate because not all supervisors are like that, and that is why the first-line supervisor serves that critical position in our force."
Regarding his own critical position as the 388th FW command chief, Smith says that his role is to support the wing's mission to "Fly, Fight and Win," which entails supporting the human element which provides the mission's support structure.
"The men and women in the 388th are the critical ingredient for mission success. It's not the fancy jet, the million dollar piece of equipment, or the high tech computer, it's the Airmen. The focus is 'all things Airman, not all things technology.' We've been on a constant rotation for years serving in Iraq and now Afghanistan," he said "It is a stressful environment to be on the road and, for the families, to be left behind. Our leadership team is consistently impressed by the Airmen doing the tough work, as well as the family. It is consistently on our radar scope and there is not a day that goes by that we do not consider how the force is doing and how the families are doing."
Other priorities on his radar are professional development, recognition of the Airmen, ensuring Airmen have the proper equipment to do their jobs, and that they're enjoying life. Smith adds, "Whether it's an Airman's first assignment or tenth assignment, I'm dedicated to ensuring their tour is filled with fond memories and great pride. I rely on many leadership levels to help me with this but life is such a precious gift and we have a responsibility to ensure our Airmen are able to enjoy themselves."
The command chief is also adjusting to the relatively new Total Force Integration concept that the 388th FW and 419th Fighter Wing incorporated recently.
"It is the oddest sight for me, personally, to see folks in jeans and T-shirts on the flight line cranking on jets, and that seems to be the initial reaction for most people as well," Smith said. "But we depend on our Total Force Integration to complete our mission."
"There are some things that I am learning that we may need to tweak and adjust, but overall it is a success," he said. "This past weekend an active duty member expressed to me that if it wasn't for the Air Reserve technicians, then we would not have had another successful week of flying. There is a lot of good that has come out of it and I think it is a neat concept."
Being enlisted, the command chief admits to having a bias for his fellow enlisted comrades and wants to raise their awareness of their importance to the overall mission. "Our Airmen are what is making the mission happen and giving us our success."
"I have a passion for being an enlisted member, and I would say that the average enlisted member underestimates their position in the Air Force," he adds. "The enlisted corps has many years of prestige and dignity attached to it and the focus of all enlisted members should be to uphold that prestige and uphold that dignity in their day-to-day actions. The foundation of that is living our Core Values, abiding by the enlisted force structure, and conducting ourselves in a professional manner. Those are simple ways that will uphold our prestige and dignity."
Smith postulates that fellow Airmen have created the foundation he built his career upon. "I tell people that if you look closely at the stripes on my sleeve, you'll see a thousand people staring back at you, because it takes that many people, if not many more, to get to where I am at today. And I cannot be anymore grateful for many years of mentorship and counsel I have received," he adds.
"As each day passes I try to give back as much as I can but if I'm lucky enough to serve another ten years I realize that there isn't any way I will ever be able to repay the Air Force back for what it has given this small town boy."