Oldest, newest E-9s celebrated during Chief's Recognition Ceremony

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Lisa Spilinek
  • 66th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Looking to bright horizons and celebrating heritage were both themes for the Chief's Recognition Ceremony held at the Minuteman Club Aug. 10. 

During the evening, the region's four newest servicemembers selected to wear the chevrons of the highest enlisted grade were recognized: Army Command Sgt. Maj. Peter Brooks, the garrison command sergeant major, Fort Devens, Mass.; Coast Guard Master Chief Petty Officer Sean McPhilamy, command master chief for U.S. Coast Guard Sector Boston; Coast Guard Master Chief Petty Officer Nadine Gookin, property adviser for U.S. Coast Guard Electronic Systems Support Unit Boston; and Senior Master Sgt. Ginger Thompson, 66th Medical Group superintendent. (Sergeant Thompson will be promoted to the rank of chief master sergeant later this year.) 

"This is a huge accomplishment," said Col. Tom Schluckebier, 66th Air Base Wing commander, to the full room, noting that only the top one percent of the enlisted force is promoted to the E-9 grade. 

"I am the product, as are many officers, of chiefs. I have been mentored by chiefs who didn't have to do that, but they did," he said.

The joint Chief's Recognition Ceremony, which is held annually, included another memorable Chief-related event this year. At 102, the Air Force's oldest chief, retired Chief Master Sgt. Esther MacKay, was appointed an honorary Charter Chief. She is the third woman to receive this honor. 

"Chief MacKay is a shining example of our proud enlisted heritage. It's an incredible honor to celebrate our newest chief select and our longest-living chief all in the same night, and I'm thrilled that so many of our Airmen are here to share in and witness this special event," said Electronic Systems Center and 66 ABW Command Chief Master Sgt. Lisa Sirois. 

The first group of servicemembers were promoted to the newly created rank of chief master sergeant on Dec. 1, 1959, and are known as the Charter Chiefs. This group was composed of approximately 625 men. Chief MacKay was promoted during the third selection board. 

"The atmosphere at that time did not permit women to play on the same playing field as men. They were limited to a very small number of career fields and seldom given any authority. Your selection and promotion to chief master sergeant by the third selection board and promotion on March 1, 1962 is a phenomenal feat. Your records must have been magnificent," read part of the letter written to Chief MacKay by retired Chief Master Sgt. Jim Flasch, president of the Charter Chiefs Group. 

Chief MacKay entered the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps in 1943. During World War II, she served in the European Theater of Operations in England. This was followed by assignments in France and Germany. In 1948 she joined the newly formed Air Force and from 1949 to 1957 she served in the Immediate Office of the Secretary of Defense. She then was stationed in the duty command section North American Air Defense Command at Ent Air Force Base, Colo., until her retirement in May 1965. 

Unfortunately, Chief MacKay, who had planned to attend the Chief's Recognition Ceremony, was unable to do so due to an illness. 

Chief MacKay offered this message to the Hansconian regarding her appointment, "Being inducted as an honorary Charter Chief is a distinct tribute and I most certainly appreciate the Board of the Charter Chiefs in extending me this honor. I have always felt my joining the armed forces of the United States of America, and in particular, the Air Force, was the best choice I ever made." 

Since Chief MacKay was not able to attend the historic ceremony, her great niece, Jerrilyn Rinaldi, was able to accept a medallion and plaque from the Charter Chiefs Group on her behalf. 

Jerrilyn's husband, Dave, who spoke on behalf of Chief MacKay's family in attendance, which also included her great nephew, Dave, and his wife, Jane, said, "This has been a phenomenal evening that went above and beyond what we expected. Thank you, armed forces." 

(Chief MacKay will be personally presented the medallion and plaque by Hanscom senior leaders during the upcoming month. Look for coverage of this event in a future edition of the Hansconian.) 

During the ceremony, Colonel Schluckebier compared the impact that armed forces' heritage has had on today's military to serving on the "shoulders of giants." 

"Chief MacKay is one of the giants whose shoulders they [the four recognized E-9s] are standing on," he said. The new E-9s who were honored during the evening also credited their accomplishments to their past leaders and mentors. 

Command Sergeant Major Brooks cited one of his platoon sergeants who he said told him, "Soldiering is about being a Soldier and doing the right thing -- mission first." 

"This stripe, just like every stripe, the day you find out is like a 'high-five day,'" Sergeant Thompson said during a video interview that was shown during the Chief's Recognition Ceremony. "This stripe is a little bit different though, because when reality sets in, you realize that, 'I didn't do this, a lot of people did this with me and for me -- I had a very small part in it.'"

Because of the role others played in their achieving their services' highest enlisted grade, the honorees pledged during their video interviews to continue to look out for their peers and subordinates and reaffirmed their professional commitment through reciting their service's creed -- the Soldier's Creed, the Airman's Creed and the Coast Guardsman's Creed. 

During her interview with the Hansconian, Chief MacKay also advised troops to honor their military heritage. "I urge all military personnel, new as well as older members, to learn and commemorate their past and present history to preserve for future generations the knowledge that is the foundation of our military experience," she said. 

The evening ended on a high note with Electronic Systems Center Commander Lt. Gen. Chuck Johnson praising the efforts of all of the new E-9s and urging them to remember that the military services fight jointly and that all in attendance were members of the same team. 

While the general noted that a lot has changed since the time Chief MacKay was born in 1905 to the present era, he challenged the new E-9s to keep instilling imagination in their troops and to, "Never lose sight of the horizon."