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Why I Stay: Chief Master Sgt. Christopher Campbell

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Evelyn J. D’Errico
  • 17th Training Wing Public Affairs

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Christopher Campbell, 316th Training Squadron senior enlisted leader, originally enlisted as a security forces airman in 2006. With him signing a six-year contract, he didn’t expect that after 15 years in the military, he would hold the rank of chief master sergeant.

“The goal was never chief,” said Campbell. “The Air Force has given me a great opportunity to have a lot of people pour into me, and believe in me and if I can do that for other people, then that is my sole purpose.”

Campbell excelled throughout basic military training and technical school in the first year of his career.

“I was an honor graduate in basic training,” said Campbell. “A distinguished graduate of security forces tech school and the first term airman course leadership award recipient.”

With Campbell’s career off to a great start, he was surprised when he was given his first major disciplinary action. He received a letter of reprimand before he even went to his first military flight.

“I should've been kicked out,” said Campbell. “It was a case of the wrong place and wrong time, so before I even got to my first flight, I had a reputation.”

With paperwork against him as an airman first class, Campbell didn’t let a potential career-ending situation stop him from trying to better himself.

“I didn’t want my mistakes to define me,” said Campbell. “I wouldn't have worked so hard if I didn't get in trouble, honestly. I had to prove myself, making the sacrifices to be a better person.”

With that mindset, Campbell was given an opportunity to prove himself by one of his initial supervisors, Senior Airman Joshua Rapaport.

“He told me, ‘Hey we’re going to do your career development courses; you’re going to come to my house on the weekend,’” said Campbell. “Saying he was going to work on our time off to help me study and get me through it.”

Rapaport pushed Campbell to reach his Airman potential, so he could one day become a supervisor himself.

“I was excited when I graduated Airman Leadership School,” said Campbell. “I was able to have troops, I ended up with seven. I was able to help and impact their lives. I can be that supervisor I wanted and they need.”

While Campbell was in the process of cross-training in the intelligence career field, he was exposed to new possibilities beyond simply working a job. Networking and receiving mentorship from his leadership pushed him in a direction that he wasn’t going before.

“I met this guy named Master Sgt. John Payne,” said Campbell.” He was my First Sergeant at the time, and he inspired me to become a First Sergeant because he helped me a lot. He’s been my mentor since I was a staff sergeant.”

Payne was the first ever senior noncommissioned officer to bring out a true purpose in Campbell, helping him achieve elevated goals.

“He really was the first person to sit me down and let me put down goals,” said Campbell. “He said, ‘Hey I see potential in you. You’re a young guy and just made technical sergeant, so let’s get you to your goal’. So we started a five to ten-year plan to become First Sergeant.”

Campbell continued to re-enlist and extend his Air Force contracts to repay the dedication he received from his leadership thus far in his journey.

“I've had so many people help me through tough times,” said Campbell. “They invested time, energy and effort into me. If I can be in the position to pay it forward to more people, then that's what I'm going to do.”

Campbell continued his career with multiple deployments and temporary duty travels, placing him in joint environments that prepared him to become a First Sergeant, but his career progression nearly stopped him from achieving his goal. In the Air Force, you can only start your first sergeant career at the rank of master sergeant, not senior master sergeant or senior master sergeant select.

“When I departed from U.S. Central Command I had picked up senior master sergeant after putting in my first sergeant developmental special duty,” said Campbell. “Well, Chief Master Sgt. Payne was the command first sergeant of the Air Force District of Washington, and he made an Exception to the Policy letter to allow me to become a first sergeant as a senior select.” 

Payne being Campbell’s mentor from when he was a staff sergeant, was able to help him achieve his goal and fulfill his dream.

“So then I got to put my first sergeant diamond on and fulfill my dream,” said Campbell.

Throughout Campbell’s career people have shown up for him, provided him guidance and assisted in his progression and achievement of goals.

“That’s what the Air Force has shown me,” said Campbell. “I know what I’m capable of; that’s why I want to be that good for others. I’ve had those master sergeants, senior airmen, staff and first sergeants pour into me and vector me in the right direction.” 

From a letter of reprimand to becoming a first sergeant and pinning on the highest enlisted rank, Campbell has continued his Air Force career because of the good-natured people surrounding him throughout his career.

“So many people have shown up for me,” said Campbell. “That's why I'm still here, for my students, cadre and my unit. I have to approach every day with a Day 1 mentality, you have these 24 hours to make a difference.”