‘The world is yours,’ Air Force’s next chief master sergeant tells JROTC cadets
By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 24, 2017
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Three days before he leaves Europe for the Pentagon, the Air Force’s next chief master sergeant gave some parting advice to a group of young students at Ramstein High School.
Chief Master Sgt. Kaleth Wright spoke to cadets in the school’s Air Force JROTC program on Monday, sharing advice that he said he wished someone had told him when he was their age.
“Some of the things you don’t necessarily learn in school about character, about discipline, about giving your best all the time — I really wish I had someone when I was in high school ... pound that into my head,” Wright said. “I think I would have made some better decisions.”
But Wright told the youths, who were a rapt audience in their blue cadet uniforms, that he didn’t regret not having finished college before he joined the Air Force.
Wright — currently the command chief master sergeant of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and U.S. Air Forces Africa — had earlier told them he enlisted in the Air Force in 1989 on a whim, after not having enough money to stay in college at the time.
He recalled sitting on his couch when his “wallet fell out of my pocket.”
“Only one thing fell, out and it was an Air Force recruiter’s card,” he said. “I picked it up; I called the guy. Two months later I was in basic training. Really, I was just interested in getting away from home.”
If he had to do it all over again, Wright said, he would have “stuck it out” because he now understands the importance of being resilient and “seeing it through.”
But, he added, “I have no regrets. I love the way my life and Air Force career played out.”
He shared with the students “his Big 5” — the five ideals he tries to live by: character, attitude, discipline, excellence and teamwork.
“If you can spend a little time every single day practicing those,” he said, “the world is yours.”
For example, no one should have to remind the cadets to wear their uniforms, turn in their homework or go to class on time, he told them. “You must discipline yourself so others don’t have to.”
And, he said of excellence, “you have to fight against being average. If better is possible, good is never enough.”
He encouraged them to think about their dreams, to try and figure out what they want to do with their lives and then go after it.
“Nothing big ever happens by mistake,” he said.
Wright said that about three to four years into his Air Force career, a mentor (the now retired Master Sgt. Joseph Winbush) helped him understand the importance of these things. “And I did a 180,” he said. “I turned it around and decided, ‘Hey, this is what I want to do.’”
Wright said he has no plans at the moment to make big changes when he officially becomes the 18th chief master sergeant of the Air Force on Feb. 17. He told the cadets he’s concerned about training, leadership development and resilience. He wants to be a voice for airmen worldwide, and he’s looking forward to talking to airmen and finding out how he can help them.
One cadet asked Wright if he was intimidated by the new job.
“Do I look like I’m intimidated by anything, man?” Wright joked. “No, I’m not intimidated, I’m excited.
“I got it: This is a big job But this is something that I’m passionate about, something I’ve been doing for a long time.”
Freshman Jessica Rogers said she enjoyed listening to Wright.
“I wish we could all get to meet him more often “because he really inspires young cadets.”
Cole Pretty, right, a Ramstein High School Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training cadet, listens to Chief Master Sgt. Kaleth Wright speak at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Monday, Jan. 23, 2017. According to the study, teacher and parental support, spending time with friends and being physically active make it more likely that a student will be satisfied with life.
MICHAEL B. KELLER/STARS AND STRIPES