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A chat with the Chief

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U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Michael Ditore, 18th Wing command chief, sits at his desk April 3, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Ditore began his career in 1991 as an F-15 Eagle crew chief. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Quay Drawdy)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan --

With all the stripes on their sleeves and years of service under their belts, it can be hard to picture a chief master sergeant as having been a part of the “E-4 mafia,” but each enlisted leader was once a junior enlisted Airman making his or her way through the early years of their career.

Chief Master Sgt. Michael Ditore, 18th Wing command chief, is no exception to that rule, starting his career in 1991 as a crew chief on the F-15 Eagle.

“I still consider myself a crew chief as it was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had in the Air Force,” Ditore said. “Young ‘Airman Ditore’ was always on the go and I’m very proud of my career, but it went by so fast I wonder sometimes if I was really able to soak it all in.”

While then Airman Ditore spent most of his time learning the ways of being a crew chief and, eventually, working with the U.S. Air Force demonstration team, the “Thunderbirds,” he dedicated himself to learning how to lead.

“Every unit I went to, I sat down and spoke with the chief,” Ditore said. “I would ask, ‘How do I get to where you are? What do I do and how do I be a better Airman?’ I would try and soak as much in as I could. I would also look around at all of the NCOs and senior NCOs and think, ‘That’s who I want to be like,’ and really latched onto that idea.”

Throughout Ditore’s time as an Airman, he knew he wanted to become a chief master sergeant and learned many lessons on leadership from conversations with his own leaders. Those lessons were put to the test, however, as Ditore moved forward with his career.

“Leadership has no rank, but the transition from senior airman to staff sergeant and becoming an NCO was one of my biggest hurdles,” Ditore said. “I used to really struggle with knowing how to deal with certain problems, especially if the person happened to be a higher rank. I just had to keep remembering my goals and prior supervisors’ advice and, like anything, practice makes perfect. Do what you know is right and be the best Airman you can be and you’ll get through.”

While developing as a leader, Ditore found his own style.

“I believe that you can’t lead someone you don’t know,” Ditore said. “The best thing you can do, as a young leader, is get out and know the folks you’re leading and understand what motivates them because not everyone is the same. You have to build those relationships because you can’t motivate someone if you don’t know what inspires them and what their goals are.”

Setting goals for the future can provide Airmen with a guide to their own success.

“My advice to Airmen would be to write down your goals, short and long term, and keep them visible because life goes by quickly,” Ditore said. “Every Airman has the ability to create their future right now. Think about who you want to be and what you want to do, write it down and let it be your map.”