Meet the command chief

INCIRLIK AIR BASE WING, Turkey -- Twenty-six years ago, Nancy Judge was in her second year at Rockford College, Ill., taking pre-dentistry courses. Fast forward to today, and you'll find Chief Master Sgt. Nancy Judge wearing the Airman battle uniform donned with eight stripes and a star that designates elite Airmen as command chiefs.

"I joined the Air Force in 1985 ... because basically I wasn't prepared to finish college financially or in maturity ... It was way too much fun," Judge admitted. "I was really just looking to get a skill, get paid and find something to challenge myself."

At the start of her Air Force journey, Judge, a girl accustomed to big-city life, became a munitions weapons loader and was stationed in the Texas countryside at Dyess Air Force Base. From the beginning, she had no intentions of making the Air Force a career. Rather, she intended on completing her four-year enlistment, separating from the Air Force and finding a new path to follow. Before she could finalize the decision to separate, an opportunity knocked at her door that changed her mind.

"I got a notice asking me if I wanted to be a (military training instructor). I actually extended my first enlistment so that I could go to San Antonio, be an MTI and then get out. I was still convinced I was getting out," Judge recalled.

Her time as an MTI, watching civilians transition to Airmen in basic military training, then only six weeks long, had an effect on her she didn't expect.

"I really liked the fast-paced part of it. You're very autonomous; you're given a job and you do it. Plus you get to impact so many people and change their lives. You really see the change in people from day one till they graduate," said Judge. "That really appealed to me. I think it was there I found my passion in being able to teach people and motivate people to succeed. I found my niche. That's where I really found what I'd like to do."

Even after her change of heart to make the Air Force a lifestyle rather than a short-lived chapter in life, Judge still didn't anticipate wearing the star of a wing command chief - the senior enlisted advisor to a wing commander.

"I had thoughts of retiring when I was a master sergeant, and I made senior master sergeant before I hit 20 (years); and then somehow I made chief," Judge said, expressing surprise in such upward movement in her Air Force career.

"To be a chief, it doesn't really matter what position you're in - you're a chief. You get to influence people and you get to see the future of the Air Force," she said. "Being a command chief is awesome; it's a great opportunity. I look forward to being able to have a positive impact on the wing. And when it comes down to it, I'm still a chief. My job is to prepare the next generation of Airmen to be chiefs."

To rise to where she is today, Judge's journey was anything but a solo act. With a tight-knit family - brothers, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles and cousins - and a close circle of friends, she's maintained a substantial support system to carry her through to this point in her career.

"I think it's important you keep in touch with your friends and family. It's lonely at the top sometimes. You become a chief and you're removed from some things going on based on professionalism and proper relationships," Judge noted. Yet family members and friends "have all been very supportive."

There are also many senior NCOs and officers who led by example as exemplary role models for her.

"I've had so many positive influences on me in my career - people who have guided me in the right direction, who have taught me things that at the time didn't make any sense to me but now I understand," Judge admitted. "They were doing it for a reason, and that reason was that some day I was going to be sitting at the 39th Air Base Wing as a command chief.

"Nobody could predict that, but they saw something in me that maybe I didn't see in myself. Had I not been pushed like that, I don't know if I'd be here today," she said.

In the past 26 years, Judge developed the characteristics of the professional enlisted Airman she wanted to portray and the mottos by which she wanted to lead.

"My philosophy is that you should make your subordinates and peers as good as or better than you. Number one, it makes your job easier; but number two, those people are the future of our Air Force. We want to make sure our Air Force is in good hands when we leave," Judge said. "Every single one of us is going to eventually leave the Air Force, so we should leave it better than we found it. We do that by training the next generation and teaching them everything we know."

Judge also developed into a hands-on leader, apparent by her desire to get her hands dirty with the Airmen she leads.

"There are so many things to be a part of and so many Airmen I'm anxious to get out and meet because they do such great things for our Air Force," Judge exclaimed. "I want to get out there and do (their jobs) with them. I want to get out and see what their jobs are like so I have a better understanding of our Air Force and how I can help them (as) their command chief."

Starting as an Airmen unknowingly becoming the next generation of Air Force leaders to being a command chief at an air base wing, Judge noted many transformations in the service throughout the years- from the boom in technology to uniform changes to the reduction in manpower. Just as the Air Force transformed, the command chief intends to make some changes at Incirlik, as well.

With positions such as mission support group superintendent and interim command chief master sergeant at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, on her résumé, Judge has gained the experience and knowledge necessary to be aware of what it might take to improve the base.

"While I'm a big believer of every Air Force job being just as important as any other job, (the mission support assignments) really gave me an appreciation for what it takes to run a base; and I really didn't have that before - that perspective," said Judge. "I think you spend an entire career just gathering information and input.

"Right now, we're trying to make sure that we have fair and consistent housing policies. We want to try to improve the living arrangements for unaccompanied Airmen, as well," said the chief. "We have to maintain good quality of life ... I think if you're happy where you're living and with the services you're provided, you will be happier with your job and be able to better maintain your focus and your readiness."

Along with maintaining readiness, the chief also intends to focus on readiness exercises conducted in the wing.

"Continuing readiness exercises and treating them as important helps us maintain our edge," she said. "I think our big goals are to be fit and focused - to remain fit, not only physically but mentally, and to stay focused on our primary missions.

"We also need to be ready for new missions and be ready to step up to the challenge. We have to be ready to handle whatever we're asked to do as an Air Force," urged the chief.

Though Judge took the position of 39th ABW command chief mere weeks ago, she already noticed reasons to be positively astounded.

"I'm impressed with our relationship with the Turkish air force; we want to be good neighbors and good tenants because we are on their installation. I'm impressed with every single Airmen I've met - their professionalism. I'm just impressed with the way the wing conducts itself," Judge said. "I think this assignment is going to be my favorite."