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Always a chief: Former CMSAF continues to serve

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- With an inspirational speech, retired Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Robert Gaylor, motivates Team V members to focus on their future and to never turn their backs on an opportunity during an all call held at the fitness center here Aug. 7. Mr. Gaylor enlisted in the Air Force during 1948 and held many prestigious titles including military training instructor and Non-commissioned Officer Academy instructor before finally serving as the fifth chief master sergeant of the Air Force. After dutifully serving 31 years in the Air Force, he now travels to numerous bases motivating Airmen as a guest speaker. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Heather Shaw)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- With an inspirational speech, retired Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Robert Gaylor, motivates Team V members to focus on their future and to never turn their backs on an opportunity during an all call held at the fitness center here Aug. 7. Mr. Gaylor enlisted in the Air Force during 1948 and held many prestigious titles including military training instructor and Non-commissioned Officer Academy instructor before finally serving as the fifth chief master sergeant of the Air Force. After dutifully serving 31 years in the Air Force, he now travels to numerous bases motivating Airmen as a guest speaker. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Heather Shaw)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- With an inspirational speech, retired Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Robert Gaylor, motivates Team V members to focus on their future and to never turn their backs on an opportunity during an all call held at the fitness center here Aug. 7. Mr. Gaylor enlisted in the Air Force during 1948 and held many prestigious titles including military training instructor and Non-commissioned Officer Academy instructor before finally serving as the fifth chief master sergeant of the Air Force. After dutifully serving 31 years in the Air Force, he now travels to numerous bases motivating Airmen as a guest speaker. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Heather Shaw)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- With an inspirational speech, retired Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Robert Gaylor, motivates Team V members to focus on their future and to never turn their backs on an opportunity during an all call held at the fitness center here Aug. 7. Mr. Gaylor enlisted in the Air Force during 1948 and held many prestigious titles including military training instructor and Non-commissioned Officer Academy instructor before finally serving as the fifth chief master sergeant of the Air Force. After dutifully serving 31 years in the Air Force, he now travels to numerous bases motivating Airmen as a guest speaker. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Heather Shaw)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- With an inspirational speech, retired Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Robert Gaylor, motivates Team V members to focus on their future and to never turn their backs on an opportunity during an all call held at the fitness center here Aug. 7. Mr. Gaylor enlisted in the Air Force during 1948 and held many prestigious titles including military training instructor and Non-commissioned Officer Academy instructor before finally serving as the fifth chief master sergeant of the Air Force. After dutifully serving 31 years in the Air Force, he now travels to numerous bases motivating Airmen as a guest speaker. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Heather Shaw)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- With an inspirational speech, retired Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Robert Gaylor, motivates Team V members to focus on their future and to never turn their backs on an opportunity during an all call held at the fitness center here Aug. 7. Mr. Gaylor enlisted in the Air Force during 1948 and held many prestigious titles including military training instructor and Non-commissioned Officer Academy instructor before finally serving as the fifth chief master sergeant of the Air Force. After dutifully serving 31 years in the Air Force, he now travels to numerous bases motivating Airmen as a guest speaker. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Heather Shaw)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- In his inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, said "And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."

Coinciding with the year of the former president's famous speech, an enthusiastic enlistee displayed service before self as he eagerly climbed the ladder in the ranks of the United States Air Force. Beginning from a young age, this Airman's love for his country and passionate attitude are what led him to become the fifth chief master sergeant of the Air Force.

Retired Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Robert Gaylor, who visited Vandenberg Aug. 6 and 7, was 11 years old when World War II broke out. He was in awe every time one of the men from his hometown, Mulberry, Ind., would return from the war wearing a service uniform.

"These young men were the local heroes of our small town," said Chief Gaylor. "They made the uniform look attractive and ended up stealing all of the women in town, making it hard to find a date," he jokingly continued. "I was influenced by this scene."

Coincidentally, the year Chief Gaylor decided to join the military was the same year the Air Force split off into its own entity from the United States Army Air Corps.

"By the time I graduated high school in 1947, I knew I could find success in wearing a service uniform," he said.

Although success was what the chief was after, leaving his small town in Indiana for Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, proved to be an adventure.

"It was a dramatic change," Chief Gaylor said. "In my teen years my scope was only about a 10-mile radius. There were no interstates or jet airplanes to get around. My world consisted of a neighborhood, church and school. When I rode the train to Lackland, I had never been so far away from home in my life. Every state traveled through was a new experience. I was like a wide-eyed kid on my first trip."

After a short bout with military training, his career took off and soared.

"When I joined, master sergeant was the highest rank," said Chief Gaylor. "Early on in my career, I was in pursuit of master sergeant. When they introduced the senior ranks (senior master sergeant and chief master sergeant) in the late 1950s, it inspired me to go further in my career. The position of chief master sergeant of the Air Force did not come around until 1967, the same year I made chief, coincidentally. At that point I had about 19 years of service."

Even after having a solid career behind him, Chief Gaylor never expected to reach the highest level of enlisted leadership in the Air Force.

"If someone would have asked me back then if I would ever be the chief master sergeant of the Air Force, I would have said 'Yeah, as soon as I get back from the moon," Chief Gaylor said with a smile. "I never worried about making that rank because I loved my job so much."

Chief Gaylor attributed the success of his career to three of his personality traits.

"I always have had a good attitude, sense of humor and motivation," Chief Gaylor said. "I always felt like the Air Force gave me the privilege of serving, and not that I gave the Air Force the privilege of my service."

The Air Force has evolved since the time of Chief Gaylor's military obligation.

"There are four differences I see in the Air Force today," he said. "We train better, we have better technology, we take better care of our families and there is more open trust throughout the ranks. These are the greatest changes, and I would say that they are all extremely important. If you asked me to pin down the most important, I would have to say trust. This is because I grew up in an Air Force where that wasn't obvious. It has taken many years to earn that trust."

The chief has been retired for more than 30 years now but still cannot find it in him to stay too far away from his Air Force family. On average, he travels to approximately 30 to 35 bases a year to speak at such events as Airman Leadership School and Noncommissioned Officer Academy graduations.

Chief Gaylor's most recent stop was Vandenberg, where he was a guest speaker for a base "all call" and a senior NCO induction ceremony. Passing down years of wisdom, the chief gave his advice to the Airmen of Vandenberg.

"The best thing Airmen can do to improve the Air Force is to serve within their own capability," Chief Gaylor said. "We know that not everyone is going to be a chief or general, but there is nothing wrong with that. If each person who comes into the Air Force and makes his contribution does his best, that's all we ask of anyone. I hope those who leave the Air Force will be able to say that it was time well spent."

Chief Gaylor did all that was asked of him, faithfully serving his country for 31 years. Now, 30 years later, the words of President Kennedy still resonate around him as he continues to serve today.