Meet your new command chief

  • Published
  • By Airman Ashley J. Woolridge
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
It's 1984. A young man from Orion, Ill., graduates high school and decides to enlist in the U.S. Air Force a year later. Little does he know, this choice will launch a career that will take him around the world and span more than 27 years.

Growing up in a rural town, Kevin Peterson always knew he wanted to join the military.

"I thought about it a lot through high school," said Peterson, now the 28th Bomb Wing command chief. "I didn't have any family in the military, 9/11 hadn't happened - it was the Cold War era. I just wanted to serve my country. Something told me that I needed to join."

Peterson's initial goal was to complete a six-year enlistment. "My thought process was to join for six, because I knew if I only signed up for four years that I would mess it up," he said with a grin. "I knew I'd be more committed with a longer enlistment. My goal was six and out."

Once in, Peterson began to travel across the U.S. and to lands far away, including Korea and Italy. These experiences helped him realize the many opportunities the Air Force provided.

"After being a technical school instructor at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, my wife and I moved to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany," Peterson said. "We loved the heck out of Germany. There was a book that we bought over there and we would mark places and things in it that we wanted to see. There were a lot of people there who didn't like being in Germany because they didn't know what to do or where to go. We took advantage of where we were at, and every weekend that we had free we would go do something different."

Besides world travel, Peterson has also taken full advantage of another opportunity afforded to him: education. Having garnered several degrees, including a Master of Ministry from Wayland Baptist University and several associates and bachelor's degrees in various other disciplines, Peterson encourages all Airmen to further their education.

"Tuition assistance was at 75 percent when I joined, and now it's even better at 100 percent," Peterson said. "I took advantage of the opportunities that I had, and I think a lot of people don't. I learned very quickly that once you get started, it's easy. Just take it one class at a time."

Originally in the munitions systems (ammo) career field, a notoriously close-knit group, Peterson said one of the things he loves most about being a servicemember is the feeling of community. However, he added a good attitude is the key to truly enjoying a career in the military.

"All of my assignments have been great," Peterson said. "People say to make the best of what you've got, and I have truly done that. I had a chief tell me to find the difficult jobs and take them. I did that, and I think it has been rewarding."

Peterson was promoted to the rank of chief master sergeant in December 2009, and is now the highest ranking enlisted member on Ellsworth. He said being a chief is an honor in and of itself, but being a command chief is a considerable undertaking.

"Once you become a chief, there's getting on the command chief list," Peterson said. "That's just icing on the cake. Only about a third on the list make it. I was shocked when Colonel (Mark) Weatherington, (28th BW commander), said that he wanted me to interview for the position."

As the command chief, Peterson is the liaison between the enlisted force and the wing commander.

"I'm the Airmen's chief," he said. "The book definition is the enlisted advisor, but I deal with the officer side, as well. I think it's very important to have an open-door policy for everybody. "

High on his list of initiatives as command chief is promoting resiliency training. "I know Airmen hear it in basic training and in FTAC (First Term Airman Course), but a lot of times we focus on suicide prevention," he said. "It's more than just that. It's using the four pillars of resiliency to cope with life."

These days, when he isn't counseling leaders or advocating for Airmen, Peterson spends time with his wife of 15 years, Elizabeth, and their three children.

"My favorite season is coming up - hunting season," Peterson said. "I'm definitely a big hunter and fisherman. I enjoy camping when I get the chance. My wife and son go hunting with me, as well. We're very involved in our church in Rapid City. I work with the youth group and Sunday School there, and also an area Boy Scout troop that a lot of people from the base have their sons enrolled in."

The chief added that being in the Air Force is a team effort that involves spouses and families, not just the Airmen themselves. He said taking care of Ellsworth Airmen - both enlisted members and officers - and their families is his biggest priority.

"I'm happy to be in a position where I can influence the Airmen and be a voice for them," Peterson said. "A lot of times we get asked, `What keeps you going?' It's not about a job for me anymore, it's about fulfillment and enjoying what I do. I am honored and truly blessed to do it."