New command chief excited to lead Malmstrom's enlisted

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- The new 341st Missile Wing command chief master sergeant, Chief Master Sgt. Cari Kent, arrived on base in May from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., where she was the 30th Space Wing command chief.

Chief Kent enlisted in 1982 as an inventory management specialist and after basic training and technical school she was assigned to Ellsworth AFB, S. D. Three years later the chief was reassigned to Osan Air Base, Korea, with a follow-on assignment back to Ellsworth.

Nearly 14 years later, in 2000, the chief finally received the assignment she had been waiting for since enlisting nearly 18 years earlier, an assignment to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany.

"When I joined the Air Force I really wanted to be stationed in Germany because that is where my great grandmother was born," said Chief Kent.

Now, 26 years later, Chief Master Sgt. Cari Kent still moves boxes like she did when she was an inventory management specialis, but instead of aircraft components, they hold personal effects for her new office in the 341st MW command suite.

The chief arrived with her husband, Larry, who she met while stationed at Ellsworth, in 1983 and two of their three sons, Bryce, 17, and Blayne,15. Their eldest son Bryan, 20, lives in Rapid City, S.D.

"We're excited to be here," said Chief Kent. "We like the area around Malmstrom. We enjoy snow-skiing and snow-boarding. Plus, my husband and boys are sportsmen and like to hunt. When they go off to do that, I get quiet time, which is fun, too."

The Kent's also plan to buy some dirt bikes and go off-roading with their 1974 Jeep CJ-5 while stationed here.

"It's a paradise for us," she said. "And it gets us closer to our 20-year-old in South Dakota."

The chief is just as excited to be a part of the mission at Malmstrom as she is to be in Montana, she said.

"I'm excited to be part of the team," Chief Kent said. "I got here the 19th of May and leadership set up an immersion course for me that I have been calling a 'baptism.'"

In the month since Chief Kent arrived at Malmstrom, she has already been to the missile field to meet with security forces members and missile maintainers. The chief also flew in a UH-1N Huey, watched the 341st Security Forces Squadron tactical response force train and has spent time with the Airmen at the clinic. Throughout the next several weeks, she is visiting different sections of the 341st Civil Engineer Squadron and plans to see more of the 341st Security Forces Group, the 341st Mission Support Group and the Wing Staff Agencies, she said.

"It's really cool," she said. "It's different here because the operational mission is not on base. It is spread out all over Montana. On a fighter wing, everyone but a few people in 24-hour shops can be brought together. It is a challenge to communicate with all those folks at once -- look into their eyes and make sure they get it."

The new chief is familiar with shouldering the responsibility of a wing's senior enlisted position and said her experience as the 30th Space Wing command chief at Vandenberg has prepared her for her duties at Malmstrom. She also comes to Malmstrom with an already-established working relationship with the 341st MW commander.

"Colonel Fortney was the [30th SW] vice commander and we worked hand-in-hand to support the commander," she said. "We worked through a lot of issues, learned together and grew together."

Chief Kent said that her duty as command chief at the 30th SW taught her to take great care and thought in every decision.

"You are affecting lives and you are affecting the mission," she said. "[Being the command chief] is a maturing process -- you become more confident in your decision making, make the commander's life easier, support your people and make their lives easier in the process. With two years of situations, I definitely grew."

Aside from her experience at Vandenberg and her current position, the chief said one of her favorite assignments was being the commandant of the Peterson NCO Academy, Peterson AFB, Colo.

"The team we developed at the academy was the reason it was so enjoyable," she said. "It was like it is supposed to be. We had no disciplinary problems on staff. Every [professional military education] instructor volunteered to be there and believed in the mission. We celebrated each other's successes and mourned each other's failures. It was a real team and it was a pleasure being their leader. If you ever get a chance to do PME, take it. It is fabulous."

Chief Kent continued by saying every assignment has been challenging and rewarding.
"I feel crazy not talking about every assignment, but we don't have the time," she said.
"I can't think of a bad job I've had or something I didn't learn something from."

Chief Kent said Airmen play an important role and that "we are Airmen 24/7."

Airmen need to learn their job, follow the rules the Air Force places on them, become a volunteer and better themselves through off-duty education, the command chief said. "You do not become a good Airman overnight," she said. "It is a process. Find something you really believe in and make a difference."

The chief encourages NCOs to focus on their job, become technical experts and learn to be supervisors. She continued by saying senior NCOs also have an important role of standing next to their commanders and helping lead their organizations.

"We can't have a shop full of just NCOs or just Airmen," she said. "The military's hierarchy and rank structure is put in place for a reason and has proven effective for the job we do."

While the chief's primary duty has grown and matured from organizing shipments of aircraft components at Ellsworth as an Airman, to guiding the enlisted corps at Malmstrom as the command chief, her reasons for selecting a base have also changed to something more substantial.

"I'm here because I believe in Colonel Fortney and his command ability," she said.