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CE chief of enlisted matters farewell interview


Chief Master Sgt. Jerry Lewis sits in the Pentagon office he's worked out of for the last four years. Lewis's office is recognizable for the large collection of coins he has acquired over his years of service, many photos of family and friends, and pop music emanating from his computer speakers. (U.S. Air Force photo/Erin Maloney/Released)


Lewis stands in the entrance to the Air Force Director of Civil Engineering office suite where he's served as chief of enlisted matters for four years. While in that position, he's worked alongside three different directors: Maj. Gen. Timothy Byers, Maj. Gen. Theresa Carter and Brig. Gen. Timothy Green. (U.S. Air Force photo/Erin Maloney/Released)


Lewis leads 600 enlisted Airmen from the 366th Training Squadron in push-ups at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. On many of his base visits around the Air Force, Lewis would begin his talks with push-ups to keep the audience awake, alert and fit. (U.S. Air Force photo/Chief Master Sgt. Christian Pugh/Released)
By CE Online

     On June 30, the directorate of civil engineers will say farewell to Chief Master Sgt. Jerry Lewis, civil engineers chief of enlisted matters, deputy chief of staff for logistics, installations and mission support. Lewis is retiring after 30 years of service. The directorate has appointed Chief Master Sgt. John Wilde to be the next CE chief.

     Before Lewis begins his transition to civilian life, we sat down with him to get some insight on his career and his thoughts for the next generation of civil engineers.

CE Magazine: Thank you for taking time to talk to us. To begin, what would you say has been the most rewarding aspect of serving as the chief of enlisted matters?

Lewis: Definitely the opportunities to influence how we recruit, train and employ our enlisted members across the civil engineer enterprise. My number one goal while here has always been to support my boss and ensure he or she has the right information to help make decisions about our enlisted force, but providing trained and ready engineers is important to me. This is sometimes tough to do inside the Pentagon; you really have to get out there and talk with the enlisted force to see what is happening. It's through these first-hand experiences that we can help influence policy or strategy to give the force the tools needed to take care of the installations.

CE Magazine: To counter that, what are some of the challenges you've faced during your time as the chief of enlisted matters?

Lewis: I've often described my days in the Pentagon as banging your head against a concrete block wall to only come away at the end of the day with a headache. However, because of the Airmen I support, I always found a way to come back the next day and figure out a way around some of the barriers that would develop. My predecessor was very successful at getting reenlistment bonuses and improving retention for deployments. Unfortunately, during my tenure, deployments decreased, authorizations (end strength) decreased, most bonuses went away and retention remained high which forced significant reductions in active duty over the last year. Explaining these challenges and force shaping to hundreds of (noncommissioned officers) who have deployed multiple times in their short career was extremely tough.

CE Magazine: You've had a pretty awesome career in the Air Force. What is the one piece of advice you would like to give to young Airmen that you wish you had known starting out?

Lewis: More than anything, be the very best at the job you have been given at your current duty station - at fulfilling your current responsibilities. There's no way any of our 16,000 active-duty enlisted members with a CE Air Force Special Code can be an expert at everything in their training standard. It is just not possible; there are way too many specific job requirements. But if they become the very best at the job we've asked them to perform at their base and for their unit, they will be successful at being a good Airman. However, what is important is that they don't stick around at that one base or unit for their entire career. Each assignment I have had has brought new challenges, job responsibilities, training and people that made me better. I encourage Airmen to move every three to four years, and eventually the tools they will have in their leadership bag will help our Air Force continue to be the best in the world.

CE Magazine: During your tenure at headquarters, we know that training has been a major topic of interest for you. What are the most important things Airmen should be training for in the next couple of years?

Lewis: Over the last 14 years, ever since the first deployments after Sept. 11, 2001, we have had the ability to train "just-in-time," which means, for the most part, that we have the ability to attend training en route to our deployment or in the months prior to it. I fear that our next conflict or need for deployed engineers will not give us the time or flexibility to train in this manner. We will need to be more prepared, in a sense, for a different kind of conflict. There's no doubt that there are a lot of smart leaders thinking about this and we will continue to move in this direction, but it will be a huge shift to how we think and train every day in garrison. I ask that enlisted leaders, and more importantly, our Airmen, think of ways that they can prepare themselves for the next conflict. 

CE Magazine: In the last few months, Chief Master Sgt. John Wilde has been co-located with you. Do you have any first impressions to share with the field?

Lewis: Brig. Gen. (Timothy) Green could not have made a better selection. Chief Wilde brings a wealth of experience, knowledge and passion to this job. There's no doubt that he could've easily become a wing, numbered air force or even a major command command chief, but his desire and appetite for influencing enlisted civil engineers won out. He brings such a breath of fresh air to the job, ideas on how to influence our (HAF's) ability to help the most basic units, and knows how important people are to what we do every day. Our enlisted force is in good hands ... I'm confident!