From small town roots to Air Force boots: AFMC’s new command chief

  • Published
  • By Brian Dietrick
  • Air Force Materiel Command

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – When a career in baseball threw too many curveballs, the Air Force Materiel Command’s newest senior enlisted leader traded in his bat for jet engines and a soaring career in the Air Force.

"I tried to play baseball in college... but my dreams were quickly dashed," said Chief Master Sgt. James (Bill) E. Fitch II, AFMC Command Chief Master Sergeant, with a chuckle, reflecting on the pivotal moment that led him to enlist in the Air Force. "I couldn't hit a curveball or fastball once they hit 85 miles an hour or faster."

On his way home from college, an encounter with an Air Force recruiter opened doors to a new world of possibilities.

"He showed me videos of air-to-air refueling operations, so I ended up enlisting as a boom operator in November 1995," Fitch said.

Fitch's career is marked by a rich tapestry of experiences, from serving at numerous Air Force installations around the world, to deployments in combatant command leadership positions.

His favorite assignment was with the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force in Mildenhall, England, where he served as the superintendent for Europe and Africa flying operations. As a bonus, his children were a great age to travel around Europe and appreciate the culture different from that back home in the U.S.

"It was just a really cool assignment... a great mixture of mission, being in a great organization, and having some amazing family experiences," he said.

Though Fitch has collected several accolades and accomplishments throughout his career, he finds true fulfillment in the success of others. His keys to success – work hard, be nice, and don't talk poorly of others – reflect a philosophy grounded in empathy and integrity.

"I get a lot of pride and joy out of seeing other people's accomplishments," Fitch said. "It's really just about trying to maintain a positive attitude.”

Outside of work, Fitch is a devoted family man with deep roots in his small-town upbringing. Recounting the story of his courtship with his wife Denise and their three daughters, he paints a picture of enduring love and companionship that has spanned over two decades.

"My wife is the general of our house," Fitch said. "It's been 23 amazing years. You won't meet a person on this planet who's more patriotic than my wife. She's loved this journey as much as I have."

Fitch also has three daughters, two of whom followed his path to the service of our nation.

"My oldest is a staff sergeant select at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, and my middle child is an airman first class at Eglin Air Force Base,” Fitch said. “My youngest has sworn to me that she will not join the Air Force, so we'll see what happens. They're amazing human beings, and we are super proud of all of them."

Fitch’s previous assignments as the command chief master sergeant at the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center provided invaluable insights into the complexities of AFMC, preparing him for his current role.

He is keenly aware of the challenges facing enlisted personnel, particularly in maintaining morale and fostering a sense of connection to the mission.

"We need to translate our mission and initiatives to our young Airmen, so they understand what they're doing and why it's so important to our mission as a whole," Fitch said.

His advice for AFMC military and civilian Airmen – be prepared – reflects a mindset of readiness and resilience in the face of uncertainty.

"You don't have to wait for the experience to happen to have a plan for it," Fitch said, urging individuals to anticipate challenges and proactively seek out solutions.

As he looks to the future, he remains steadfast in his commitment to the mission of AFMC and the defense of the nation.

"We must be prepared mentally, physically, and spiritually. This is a time of great consequence for our nation," Fitch said. "I think every military and civilian Airman really needs to understand that we could be in a big fight. Hopefully, we're not. We hope that all the great work that everybody is doing within AFMC is getting the technology and the developments we need during this trying time. Other nations knowing that we have those capabilities is a big deterrent, and nobody will want to mess with Uncle Sam. But if it happens, we need to be ready for it."

Fitch leaves an indelible impression on all who interact with him, embodying the principles of leadership, service, and integrity that define the ethos of AFMC and the Air Force. With his guidance and leadership, the command is poised to meet the challenges of tomorrow, united in its commitment to excellence and the defense of the nation.