Poppin’ Smoke: Who Will You Be Once You Hang Up the Uniform?

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Timothy White

Welp teammates, I’m poppin’ smoke. This will be the last Citizen Airman commentary I write as your Command Chief. In my initial draft, I thanked numerous individuals by name who’ve had a significant impact on my career and found myself three paragraphs in without mentioning everyone. It’s always a gamble mentioning people by name because you will undoubtedly miss someone, but there are a few I must acknowledge.

First and foremost, I want to thank my wife, Edith, my son, Jordan, my daughters, Natalia and Gabby, along with the extended family who supported us every step of the way. 

Edith has been the bedrock of our family, and despite us getting on each other’s nerves from time to time, she is my ride-or-die and has ridden this thing out with me. My family is intact to this day because of the strength and commitment Edith has for our family.

Jordan is living his best life, and I hope to get him interested in golf so we can hang out more. Now that Natalia is an Airman, we have grown closer than ever before simply because we speak the same language. Even though Gabby is the baby of the family, she has been the voice of reason, and I am so proud of the young woman she has become. I love you all, and as we move on to the next chapter, my commitment to you is to be a better husband, father, sibling and son to those I’ve neglected over the past three decades.

I would be remiss for not specifically mentioning my previous and current wingmen, Lt. Gen. Richard Scobee and Lt. Gen. John Healy for the trust they bestowed in me. Any wins or gains made during my tenure were a direct result of their support.

I also wish to thank all the previous supervisors, commanders, directors, chiefs, first sergeants, peers and Airmen of all ranks I’ve had the pleasure of serving with throughout my career. You know who you are.

A special shout-out to my internal AFRC headquarters and Pentagon office teammates, past and present, for keeping me on time, on target and on focus, especially when things got hectic. We’ve been through a lot over the last four years, and you made me and this command better. I can’t mention you all by name, but again, you know who you are. 

An extra shout-out to CMSAF #18, Kaleth O. Wright, CMSAF #19 JoAnn Bass, and our Airey Court neighbors, past and present, for being such great mentors, neighbors and friends.

While the military combated international and domestic terrorism, Covid-19 and civil unrest on a national scale, the sacrifices of local law enforcement within their own communities has been something never lost on me. I want to thank Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco, sheriff’s admin and the county of Riverside for their unwavering support.

A special shout-out to my Thermal Station friends and coworkers who have borne the additional administrative and operational burden during my extended absence. I have been a law enforcement officer with RSD for 22 years now, and if you count the mobilization after the September 2001 terrorist attacks, my last two active-duty assignments, and various deployments and training requirements, I have been away from the department for 10 of those years. I am excited about returning to the starting lineup for Team RSD in a full-time capacity this summer.

This is a common practice for thousands of Reservists and employers across the globe who juggle military and employee/employer commitments. It can be difficult balancing this relationship because some may not fully understand what we do or why we do it. Employers and coworkers often pick up the slack for Reservists and Guardsmen at the expense of organizational and mission demands.

Civilian employer sacrifices often go unnoticed, and for this, I tip my hat to Reserve and Guard civilian employers and community advocates everywhere for playing such a crucial role in the defense of this nation.

During a recent media interview, I was asked about any specific accomplishment I was most proud of. No individual accomplishment readily came to mind. I’ve always viewed leadership opportunities as a team sport, like a perpetual relay race. You take the baton from your predecessor, run your leg as hard and as fast as you can, then hand the baton to your successor.

As I hand the baton to Chief Master Sgt. Israel Nuñez, I’m going to step off the track, find my seat in the bleachers and cheer for Team AFRC from afar. It’s the only way the team continues to win.

One of my teammates recently asked about the legacy I intend to leave behind. Guess what … I don’t have one. I never intended to create a legacy for myself. I only strived to do the best I could with the resources I had to move the ball forward. While I’ve always made decisions I believed were in the best interest of this command, I am not married to any of them.

I’ve known peers and colleagues who struggled after hanging up the uniform because it can be difficult separating the position from the person. Transitioning from a high-profile leadership position into an ordinary civilian job can be extremely difficult.

While I will severely miss the people and the mission, I won’t miss any one position or title, because I’ve never worn the uniform for that. I will, however, miss the opportunity and ability of making a difference in the lives of others simply because of the position I once held.

Here’s the skinny. At some point, we all will relinquish titles, responsibilities, positions of authority or spheres of influence we’ve accumulated over time. This is how this enormous machine works. But you never have to relinquish being the best version of you that you can be. You never have to relinquish showing respect for one another simply because you disagree. You never have to relinquish being a decent human being because you don’t need a uniform for that.

What or who you will be once you hang up the uniform is the million-dollar question that can only be answered by the why one wears it in the first place.

I’ve worn the uniform going on 34 years now, and like the majority of those who do the same, I’ve done it for one reason and one reason only. We who wear the cloth of our nation do so because we love this country. Factoring all the things that divide us, there is more that unites us. Although America is a country with a troubling past and a challenging future, make no mistake about it: Despite her imperfections, she is the greatest country on Earth.

There has been no higher honor than wearing the cloth of the United States of America, and there has been no greater privilege than serving as your Command Chief.

I wish you and your families well!