The name says it all

  • Published
  • By Gene H. Hughes
  • 908th Airlift Wing
When the 908th's command chief, Chief Master Sgt. Cameron Kirksey, recently departed for the fighter community at Homestead Air Force Base, everyone began to speculate on a possible replacement. Would that person come from within the 908th, or would a new face sit in the center office on the second floor of Building 1056?

After an intensive interview process, comprising of five highly qualified candidates, from both inside and outside the unit, Wing Commander Col. Brett Clark selected Chief Master Sgt. Owen Duke Sr., of the 908th Security Forces Squadron.

And it didn't take long for the wing's new senior enlisted to hit the ground running. His first plan of battle; to make sure 908th Airmen get the accolades they deserve, from receiving a coin to recognition for making a significantly healthy lifestyle change.

"We have great Airmen doing great things around the globe," he said. "Most people simply want to be noticed and appreciated for what they do, and public acknowledgement is a huge plus! It may be a coin or a unit quarterly award, or even a simple pat on the back and a 'thank you.' It's amazing how positive, human contact can self-fix some problems/behaviors."

Colonel Clark has made it a priority that the 908th be recognized as an elite unite; one to which both current and potential members will be proud to belong. Chief Duke said his plan to help achieve that goal will be braced by four pillars.

"First comes that recognition we talked about," he said. "Next comes the Fit-to-Fight Program. This is about a lifestyle change so we can enjoy our families and retirement."
"Then comes promotions. Advancements to staff sergeant and master sergeant will be highly scrutinized. We are developing a transparent process that will ensure only the cream of the crop will be considered. These are the immediate and future leaders of the 908th Airlift Wing.

The fourth pillar will be Enlisted Performance Reports (EPRs).

"They must be a true reflection of the individual and what has been accomplished during the rating period. EPRs are a critical part of any promotion/award/assignment package."
Duke said that for the plan to work and for enlisted personnel to "buy-in," they have to trust their senior enlisted leadership... and that starts with him.

Members of the 908th have already begun to experience some of those attributes that Duke's background in armor (as a former Soldier) and military law enforcement brings to the table, such as discipline.

"By its very nature, security forces is a deadly business," he said. "(There's) no second guessing, no hesitation. You learn to do what you are told, when you are told and like you are told, because it's the best way to survive another mission.

As the new command chief, the responsibility of taking care of the wing's main strength -- its people and their families, both immediate and extended -- is a duty Duke does not take lightly.

"We must continue to look after our Airmen, during UTAs, annual tours, and before, during and after deployments," he said. "Good Lord willing and the creek don't rise, I will meet every Airman and their family before they go into harm's way. It is important they know they have a direct link to someone who's been there.

Duke can appreciate the strengths that family ties provide, for like many others in the wing, he has family serving here in the 908th. His son is a loadmaster with the 357th Airlift Squadron.

"We are both prior Army," he said. "It is especially hard for us to deploy because we have to have "that conversation" each time. No, it does not get easier after five deployments. It does make you appreciate the time together, no matter how short.
"We do not say good-bye."

The wing, as such, has no apparent weakness, according to Duke, but an important mission for him will be combating any lack of proper supervision/leadership. And that begins when Airmen arrive from Basic/Tech school.

"They lose that discipline after they get here," said Duke, whose name itself means leader. "They get caught up with the 10-percent-poison crowd because we do not lead, we manage. You lead people, you manage processes. We are going to lead our Airmen by example; by getting our hands dirty and getting back to the basics."

To explain the importance he places on his wife, Cheryl, he told about the time in 2007 when, after recently returning from Iraq, he got a call from the then-mission support group commander asking if he would take the 908th SFS to Iraq. He replied that it was up to his wife.

After some discussion, the Duke house commander said, "If you feel like you should go then be careful, and tell (name omitted for obvious reasons) not to call here anymore."
"I simply cannot put into words what a blessing Cheryl is, Duke said. "She married a crazy man, and yet, she sticks around. She is much stronger than me."

His operations background is tactical rather than aerial, but as the owner of "some old cars and trucks," he knows a thing or two about the benefits of performance and a finely tuned engine, like that of his restored 1964 1/2 convertible Ford Mustang.

"I drive it in parades, weddings, car shows, etc.," he said. "It's a fun car and initiates a lot of conversations."

He also enjoys working in the yard (he recently laid three tons of grass by himself). He also swims three times a day in his pool "to keep these old bones working.," and likes to travel with the family.

For Duke, life Is good, and he considers himself blessed to serve the greatest family in the world; the 908th Airlift Wing.

"I will promise you this: I will always do one more for you than you expect," he said, "I will always treat you and your family with the utmost respect and I will always do my best to bring honor to our family, the 908th.

Asked for an anecdote that illuminates his love of service, he simple said, "When I returned from Iraq, a father walked up to me in the airport, shook my hand and with tears in his eyes he said, 'Thank you for bringing my boy home.'

"Damn right I take this serious. I love what I do!"