Former enlisted chief still speaks for airmen

Retired Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Sam Parish discusses how to improve the work of NCO’s in a conversation Wednesday with Command Chief Master Sgt. James Randall. CNJ staff photo: Darrell Todd Maurina.

By Darrell Todd Maurina: CNJ staff writer

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE — When Sam Parish enlisted in the Air Force 50 years ago, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life and never dreamed he’d someday become the top enlisted man in the Air Force.

Then, as the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force from 1983 to 1986, Parish regularly met with the senior leaders of the Air Force to explain the views of enlisted personnel. Now in retirement, he keeps in contact with the Pentagon’s senior leadership and also visits bases around the world to meet with airmen and keep a finger on the pulse of the changing military.

Cannon leaders invited him to be the speaker for the Airman Leadership School graduation last week. While in the area Parish took the opportunity to meet numerous groups of enlisted personnel on base — and also remind the senior officers of the role of the junior enlisted personnel.

“Colonels and chiefs and generals don’t make the Air Force go on a daily basis,” Parish said. “It’s the two-, three- and four-stripers.”

Parish said he’s energized by spending so much time with junior enlisted young people.

“There’s not a single one of them that couldn’t be my grandchild,” Parish said. “These young guys bring a lot to the United States Air Force. We need to be careful that we don’t break faith with the moms and dads of the world.”

Parish said he tries to share some of what he’s learned over the years with people just starting their Air Force careers.

“I’m a firm believer that if you don’t know where you’ve been, how can you know where you need to be in the future?” Parish said.

As Parish rose through the enlisted ranks, once turning down an opportunity to become an officer, he said he learned to understand the importance of senior sergeants respectfully disagreeing with their officers when needed. Parish said he applied not only to majors and colonels but even to the multi-starred generals in the Pentagon during his interview to become the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force.

“I disagreed with virtually everything that was said. I don’t tell people what they want to hear, and that’s what they wanted in a Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force at that time,” Parish said. “Being yourself is what gets you ahead in life.”
Chief Master Sgt. James Randall, the highest-ranking enlisted man at Cannon Air Force Base, said giving enlisted personnel the opportunity to hear perspectives like that is why he tries to bring retired Chief Master Sergeants of the Air Force to Cannon as much as possible for special events.

“These folks are living history,” Randall said. “He’s been able to keep up with what’s going on today. They not only get to see it happening in their day, but they are able to put things in context.”

Randall said one lesson he hopes the senior enlisted people will take home from Parish’s presentation is their in being a channel for communication between the officers and junior enlisted personnel.

“Chief Parish is a very, very straight arrow and is not at all bashful about telling what he thinks,” Randall said. “He feels saying the right thing and doing the right thing have to go hand-in-hand.”