Air Force enlisted aides: chef to stars

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Torrance Hoeft
  • 30th Space Wing
Tech. Sgt. Liz O'Kane is the executive chef of a three star restaurant. As an enlisted aid for Lt. Gen. Larry James, the 14th Air Force commander, Sergeant O'Kane is in charge of maintaining his home, keeping it organized, and of course, cooking extraordinary meals for anywhere between two and 200 people.

The career field of the enlisted aide is both small and unique. Three star and four star generals in the Air Force are allotted between one and four enlisted aides depending on their position; these aides are the secret weapons behind immaculate homes, perfectly pressed uniforms and dazzling banquets of the Air Force's most senior officers.

Sergeant O'Kane says the job of an enlisted aide can best be described as a household manager. While the luncheons, dinners and holiday parties are the most well known part of the job description, enlisted aides also help the general get ready for a temporary duty assignment at a moment's notice.

"In the first year that Lt. Gen. Larry James was here, I prepared him for over 67 TDYs," said Sergeant O'Kane. "That is a lot of uniform preparation if you think that sometimes he goes through three uniform changes per day."

The ideal Air Force enlisted aide is both flexible and organized. Air Force generals have an extremely busy schedule and the enlisted aide's ability to think on their feet is invaluable. As Sergeant O'Kane describes, being able to think critically is not only vital but also one of the most enjoyable aspects of the job. The job is never the same on a day to day basis and nothing ever turns out as planned, but it is just this aspect of constant change that makes her work interesting and challenging to her.

An Airman's current job is not usually a hindrance in the applicant's qualification; in fact Sergeant O'Kane insists that you should not let your Air Force Specialty Code determine whether or not you pursue the opportunity. Sergeant O'Kane emphasizes that it isn't prior experience, but a positive attitude that is the most important quality in a successful enlisted aide. Similarly, the ability to cook is not a prerequisite; the Air Force provides their future enlisted aides with some of the finest culinary training available in the U.S.

"I was able to take a Mediterranean cooking class at the Culinary Institute of America which teaches you how to put a distinct flair on different foods," Sergeant O'Kane said. "There is also a grueling advanced culinary school in Fort Lee which houses the highest culinary training you can get as a part of the Department of Defense."

For Airmen interested in becoming an enlisted aide, the best resource is getting to know an enlisted aide and asking them about their daily life. Senior Master Sgt. Lori Kelly, enlisted aides special duty manager, presents another option: she said that she would be happy to connect interested applicants with members currently serving as aides over the phone so that someone interested can ask any questions they have. Of course, Sergeant Kelly has been an enlisted aide herself.

The enlisted aide application process is straightforward: like with any special duty assignment, first an interested applicant needs to receive permission to be released from their current career field. Once released, they must submit an application package consisting of the last five enlisted performance reports, a resume, one full length photograph and letters of recommendation to Sergeant Kelly. Once an application is received, Sergeant Kelly begins the intricate process of matching an applicant with a general, a process which necessarily takes into account personality, entertainment style and current assignment. For Sergeant O'Kane, being matched with General James involved international travel.

"General James was stationed in Yakota, Japan, so we did a video teleconference with both him and Mrs. James, who is an integral part of the application process," Sergeant O'Kane said. "The next week I flew to Japan and prepared a dinner for six people. I think one of the most important parts was my demeanor, my attitude. I think it comes down to that."

As Sergeant Kelly describes, once an enlisted aide becomes matched with a general, the two can work together for years. Enlisted aides who form particularly positive relationships with the generals they work for often choose to move with the family and continue to work for them. While some aides see the opportunity as a way of achieving career broadening, others fall in love with the career field and make it a permanent position.

No matter who they work for, or how long they choose to remain in the position, the number one priority of the enlisted aide is to serve. This characteristic was echoed by both Sergeant O'Kane and Sergeant Kelly, who insist that while enlisted aides might be excited at the prospect of outstanding culinary training or proximity to some of the most interesting leaders in the Air Force, the main motivation of any enlisted aide is the thought of service.

"In the enlisted aide capacity, you hear the words service-heart a lot," Sergeant Kelly said. "Everyone is a giver."

For more information on Air Force enlisted aide programs, visit  

To view current Enlisted Aide openings visit  

For more information, call Senior Master Sgt. Lori Kelly at 703-695-5910.