By P. A. Tezuka, SMC Public Affairs
/ Published May 12, 2008
LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE -- "It is a little surprising to end your career at a base that does not have your occupational specialty, but I wouldn't change a thing because I had the chance to be around the most spectacular people," said Command Chief Master Sergeant Steven Crocker of the Space and Missile Systems Center about his last assignment here at Los Angeles Air Force to Base. "It just doesn't get any better than to end your career working with the people I've been blessed to work with."
As he prepares for his retirement after serving almost 32 years with the United States Air Force, Chief Crocker, whose specialty is in Air Traffic Control, talks about his career, the people he's worked with, and his words of advice to those who follow after him.
Chief Crocker joined the Air Force in 1976 to further his education and to improve himself. That was very important to him. Being a son of a Navy man who served during the Korean War, Chief Crocker originally took all of his enlistment exams with the Navy. But the educational opportunities offered by the Air Force finally lured him in.
"The Air Force had a lot more opportunities that were appealing. I came in looking for the longest technical school I could find," said Chief Crocker. "Our Air Force is the only military institution that has a degree-granting, associate degree program."
In addition to attaining various educational courses and schools offered through the Air Force, to include a Community College of the Air Force Associate Degree, Chief Crocker also earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Occupational Education with a dual major in Aeronautical Science and Electronic Technology and a Master of Science Degree in Human Relations.
"I did not join the Air Force with the intent of making it a career," he said. "It was very unclear as to whether or not I was going to remain ... but as my time went on, the benefits staying far outweighed any of the potential benefits that might entice me to not stay in."
At around the 10-year point, Chief Crocker knew he was staying for good after contemplating over the choice of taking a lucrative civilian job opportunity. He's glad he made the decision to stay.
"The Air Force continued to give me phenomenal opportunities, different jobs, different locations, and increased responsibility at a relatively young age," said Chief Crocker. "Nothing could match that."
Chief Crocker also said it's a lot more about the people he served with, than the places he's been or the jobs he's done that makes the Air Force such a great place to be.
"I was always surrounded by great people who always inspired me," he said.
During the early part of his career, Chief Crocker left his Meteorological Equipment Specialist career field and entered the Air Traffic Controller field where he stayed for the majority of his career.
"One of the many benefits of the Air Force is the opportunity to retrain into a completely, non-related career field and not lose any seniority or tenure, vacation time, or any of the benefits you've earned up to that point," he said.
Asked who his mentor was as a young airman, Chief Crocker replied, "Senior Master Sergeant Rawls. I think I probably learned more in my early years from him than from anybody else. He understood the importance of people."
Chief Crocker said Sergeant Rawls taught him how to inspire people to do their best through their own internal desire and not because of threat or intimidation, and that all people want to be respected for the job they do. Sergeant Rawls also took time to know all his people, their spouses and children, which, Chief Crocker feels, was the primary reason for the success of his division.
"He took time to know all of us in the division. I think that's a very important attribute for any leader, to know your people, understand that everybody has a story, everybody is important, and everyone brings value to any organization.
"I'll never forget this gentleman," he said of Sergeant Rawls.
Another person Chief Crocker looked up to was then Major Darryl Burke [now Brigadier General-select working for the Secretary of the Air Force's office], when Chief Crocker was assigned to his first squadron superintendent position.
"He opted to make me his squadron superintendent although I was assigned to his unit to run the air traffic control facility," said Chief Crocker. "I learned a lot from him ... allowed me the chance to understand more about how every career field in every organization must work together for the unit to be successful. He was a great leader."
One of Chief Crocker's most memorable moments though was working for Lt. Gen. Michael Hamel, current SMC commander, the past six years.
"Getting a phone call from General Hamel when he hired me to become his command chief for the 14th Air Force [Vandenberg AFB, Calif.] was a highlight of my career," said Chief Crocker. "Being a non-space guy, it was a very pleasant surprise when he asked me to serve with him. There is no one I admire or respect more than General Hamel. He has an incredible passion for space but also an incredible compassion for people. He's the type of leader we all aspire to become."
Chief Crocker said one of his greatest rewards as a leader was to see the many successes of those who have worked with him. He said one of the most satisfying feelings of any senior leader is to think you might have helped someone to become as successful as they possibly could.
"When you make Chief, many believe more folks will be working for you. Although that is often true, what is more important is that a Chief is now working for more people. A Chief must enable success." said Chief Crocker. "I think SMC is the place to be because of all the great folks we have. There's no way the Center could be as successful if not for all the superior workforce that makes it all happen."
Chief Crocker really believes in the Air Force core values, especially integrity, and the importance of honesty.
"You must always be as truthful as you can be in every situation," he said. "But one of the most important people to be truthful to is to yourself."
He also stressed the importance of self improvement. "We should capitalize on the strengths of ourselves and people around, but also recognize our weaknesses and try to continuously improve. There's an opportunity to learn every day," he said. "I think it's recognizing that continuous improvement applies to everybody, every time, throughout your career and life."
For those just starting out in the Air Force, he had some words of advice.
"It's an exciting time to be part of our Air Force. Do the best job in everything you do today and tomorrow often will take care of itself," said Chief Crocker. "It's also important for people to cherish their time in the Air Force. Being part of the Air Force is a privilege, not a right. As I reflect back on my career, it makes me more appreciative of the honor it was to wear the uniform of my country, to serve in a profession which is making our nation safe, and helping our Air Force become an even better Air Force tomorrow than it is today.
"For folks coming in today, I think it is important for them to always do the best job they can do, to have as much integrity as they can, to know what they don't know as much as what they know, to seize every training opportunity, and to set themselves short-term and long-term goals to help them and their units be most successful. Most importantly, take care of each other. Wingman is not just a cliché; it's really something that everyone should really focus on. Nothing is more important than people."
Chief Crocker said one of our greatest attributes in the Air Force is our Airmen.
"It is an admirable profession you are in," he said. "You are contributing in a positive way to our nation's defense, serving your country, and making a difference."
Chief Crocker encourages everyone to leave their base better than they arrived. "You should also strive to leave the people around you better than you found them too," he said. "Then, when you leave, and we all leave eventually, you'll also be better because of it ... we all grow collectively; we all grow together as we make SMC and our Air force better.
"As we move on, it was a true privilege and honor for MaryEllen [wife, herself a retired senior master sergeant] and I to serve alongside everyone here at SMC," said Chief Crocker. "We thank everyone for their great support during our tenure and ask for everyone to continue to serve in the positive way we've seen since we've been here, and make SMC an even better place than it already is. Always focus on taking care of the people who take care of the mission. We've had such a wonderful experience with all the great people at SMC and our Air Force across the world. We will miss the people the most.
"It's been a great, great career," said Chief Crocker. "I can't imagine doing anything else for the past 32 years."
Chief Crocker hopes to continue to serve the Air Force in some capacity after his retirement. As for now, he and his wife plan to take some time to travel across the United State to visit with friends and family.
"We're a family of faith, so we truly believe we'll be wherever we're supposed to be and many doors will open in the future - we just want to walk through the right door and hope our future profession will be as great as our Air Force career."