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Robert Gaylor, who retired in 1979 as the 5th Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force, visited Yokota Air Base on Tuesday.
Robert Gaylor, who retired in 1979 as the 5th Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force, visited Yokota Air Base on Tuesday. (Christopher B. Stoltz / S&S)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Technological advances and a huge training push in the past 25 years are the driving elements behind mission success in today’s leaner military, a former chief master sergeant of the Air Force said Tuesday.

Robert Gaylor, who retired in 1979 as the fifth person to occupy that post, is wrapping up a Pacific tour which included stops at Osan and Kunsan air bases in South Korea. He’s met with airmen from dozens of units and appeared at the 5th and 7th Air Force annual awards ceremonies.

The dynamic Gaylor routinely visits bases and other organizations to speak about management techniques and his experiences over a 31-year career that began shortly after World War II.

He says the Air Force has shifted dramatically in the last quarter-century.

“You’ve got dorms instead of barracks and dining facilities instead of chow halls,” Gaylor said. “Our airmen today are much better trained. They all go to tech school. That wasn’t always true.

“We’ve got NCO academies and (Airmen Leadership School). The Air Force has also gone high-tech with new gadgetry,” he said.

“We’re able to do more with less because the technology is there and airmen have the skills to work with it.”

Gaylor, who spent 18 years as a military policeman, including assignments at Kunsan and the old Tachikawa Air Base in Japan, also said greater emphasis on education has created new opportunities within enlisted ranks.

“People have credentials now that they didn’t have before,” he said. “Education and training are the keys to mission accomplishment. It’s pretty difficult asking anyone to lead if they don’t have the proper training or education.”

Fair play, communication, integrity and consistency are the marks of a strong leader, he said.

Gaylor says the Air Force’s future depends on airmen willing to cross-train and fill unfamiliar but vital roles.

“It’s a time of flexibility, mobility and management of the force,” he said. “When you don’t have a lot of resources, you can only use what you have available.

“It’s an exciting time … because of the unknown,” he said. “But it’s also frustrating and challenging because of the unknown. It’s a plus-minus deal.

“We’re going through things we’ve never been through before. In World War II, we knew exactly who the enemy was. Now, we’re not sure.”

Gaylor, who visited 33 bases in 2005, said he’s motivated by his desire to remain part of the Air Force and enjoys sharing thoughts with today’s troops.

“I want to look them in the eyes and thank them for what they do,” he said. “I want to cause people to try to think. That’s what others did for me. I had a lot of people who helped me and now I’m just paying it back.”

Chief Master Sgt. Cathy Barker, 374th Airlift Wing command chief master sergeant, said Gaylor’s stop at Yokota is significant.

“What a great honor for us that he can share his experience and leadership with our airmen,” she said.

Gaylor lives in San Antonio. Later this year, the NCO Academy at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, will be dedicated in his honor.

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