HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – After nearly 30 years of service, Chief Master Sgt. Henry L. Hayes Jr., installation command chief, is retiring from the Air Force. A journey he said he never saw unfolding the way it did.
While the Air Force was never a part of his plan, the military was a part of his life from the beginning.
Hayes is a self-proclaimed “Army brat,” born at Stuttgart Army Base, Germany, where his father was stationed. Always absent from his own family reunions, he said he views his father’s battle buddies more like uncles and aunts.
By the time he graduated high school, he was well versed in packing up and moving on.
“Not even four hours after graduating, I left my mom’s house on a Greyhound bus headed to Fort Worth, Texas, to start my life,” he said. “Whatever that meant.”
Once in Texas, 17-year old Hayes was bored and job searching when he decided to talk with a recruiter.
“I told the Air Force recruiter that if he could get me in before I turned 18, I would go,” he said. “But if he couldn’t, to never call me again.”
With only seven days before his birthday, he got the call, and true to his word, left for basic training. After completing basic training, he began studying as an aircraft structural maintainer craftsman and received orders to Carswell Air Force Base, Texas.
It was at his first base that he met his future wife, Stephanie. She had just finished an education program off-base when she first met the young Airman, and has been by Hayes’ side ever since.
“Stephanie has been with me the whole 30 years,” he said. “And there’s plenty of honey left in the moon.”
In the first half of his career, Hayes worked as a structural maintainer supporting mostly battle-damaged aircraft. Despite his years of hands-on experience, he said he was never an aircraft enthusiast, and probably never will be. However, he always understood the importance of his mission.
“I knew there was great value in what we did, regardless of what the task was,” he said. “The overall value was so much greater than the small tasks, and once I understood that, I was really able to see the big picture.”
After 15 years as a maintainer, Hayes stepped out of the field completely and into the world of education. In 2005, he became one of the few enlisted members to work on developing and instructing on academic curriculum for Squadron Officer School, Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.
While most enlisted members working in officer training focus on basic military skills, Hayes was teaching future officers about Air Force leadership, ethics and communication.
“My mother was an educator and I think a portion of that was instilled in me,” he said. “I really believe that I am built to present information, and I think it really became what I felt was my purpose.”
He set the tone for his next 15 years by becoming an additional duty first sergeant, and wore the diamond insignia through achieving the rank of chief master sergeant.
Hayes said the first sergeant position forced him to face people in their highest and lowest moments and that the greatest lessons he has learned came during that time, as well as his greatest challenges.
“We can view first sergeants as authoritarian, or just the commander’s person who deals with all the people affairs,” he said. “But first sergeants really become intimately familiar with all types of people’s pain.”
It was the same people he worked with every day that Hayes said made his Air Force career so special, and that his two favorite assignments were always the one he was heading to, and the one he had just left.
Throughout his career, Hayes said he often recalled the words of retired Chief Master Sgt. Jack Johnson.
“He said ‘some people look at the horizon to see what’s coming, I have to look beyond the curve of the earth,’” said Hayes. “After I heard that, it changed the way I plan and examine things in my life.”
After officially retiring later this month, Hayes will serve as the town manager of Sudbury, Massachusetts, beginning in April. He said that he, his wife and four children are looking forward to their next chapter.
“My family has been just as big a part of my career as my responsibilities at work,” he said.
Hayes reminds Hanscom Airmen of their impact to the overall mission.
“Hanscom is the place where America’s next two wars are being won,” he said. “For those wondering how their time at the gate, or the clinic, or any function falls into that mission, stay motivated. The acquisition mission can’t happen without you.”
Closing the book on his career, Hayes said he isn’t as bothered by the end as he thought he might be. He spoke with retiree friends and family for guidance, and says he’s ready to move on.
He knows the Air Force he served for 30 years is in good hands, and his only request is that the men and women who continue to serve allow him and his family to sleep soundly at night.
“When I was a young Airman, the older generations had their thoughts and doubts about our commitment and courage, and by default, we’re doing the same thing to this new generation,” he said. “But when I see these young Airmen today, they don’t quit. They are stronger and smarter than they get credit for, and everything they need is already inside them.”