OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. - When Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Narofsky was an Air Force trainee in basic training in 1983, he found a page in his study guide that showed the estimated timeline for making each rank and wrote the number 15 next to chief.
"It said the soonest you could make chief was in 14 years and I wrote down 15," said the chief who serves as U.S. Strategic Command's senior enlisted advisor. "I missed it by two years, but in basic training I wrote when I wanted to make each stripe. I figured if I was going to dedicate myself by going through boot camp - and what a shock that was - I was going to make it a career. "
Nowadays when Chief Narofsky isn't behind the glass doors of USSTRATCOM's command section, or traveling and meeting with junior enlisted and commissioned servicemembers, he's preparing to wrap up his 28 years of military service. In his off-time he immerses himself in his latest project - minor construction work on the basement of the home he shares with his wife, Dorene. He said the long hours he spends working on his home have given him ample time to reminisce about his life and leadership role in the Air Force.
"I wanted to make each stripe to get more responsibility to affect change as I was going through the Air Force," he said. "I've seen good and bad supervisors and I figured that in order to be a better supervisor, you had to learn how to lead more people, direct more operations or be in charge of more things, and at that time that was my big goal. Later of course you sit back and realize leadership is not about managing more stuff or getting more responsibility, it's about impacting people and influencing them to make the Air Force better - make themselves better. "
Chief Narofsky, a Chicago, Ill. native, entered the Air Force after going to college in Tuscon, Ariz. where his strong work ethic was evident even then. He worked a number of different jobs in construction and the restaurant business while attending college, at one point earning 36 credit hours in two semesters and eventually being awarded his associate's degree. The long work hours coupled with a rigorous college schedule proved to be an exhausting combination but he managed to persevere and graduate. He weighed his decision to enlist, getting that extra push during a mentoring session where a long term goal was laid out for him.
"I had met a chief who had just retired and lived in the local area in Tuscon and I was talking to him about joining the Air Force. He was the one who encouraged me and said 'if you're going to enlist, go do it and make chief, don't just go in there and do five years or six years, make it a goal. ' He was really the one that gave me the impetus to reach chief," he said. He also attributes his decision to enlist from the influence of growing up in a military family, particularly his father who served in the Army. His grandfather, uncle and aunt who also were Marines and he has other relatives who were in the Navy and Air Force.
"Service to your country is sort of the theme to our family," Chief Narofsky said.
But it was his father who had one of the biggest impacts in his life, providing a considerable amount of encouragement and inspiration while teaching the chief some valuable life lessons.
"He taught me a lot of things that are important today about valuing life because you only get to do this once. He also taught me the importance of taking care of yourself because when he was young he ran track, but he smoked most of his life so he died of lung cancer," he said. "He was the one who encouraged me to continue on and to take care of my mom and take care of my wife and kids. Those were big life lessons he taught me. "
Chief Narofsky has applied those lessons to help groom future Air Force NCOs, supervisors and even young officers. He said the best thing about his position is being able to recognize and coin Airmen for their hard work. He also knows some of the biggest challenges many Airmen face, particularly when it comes to military standards.
"The hardest thing I think no matter what is sometimes enforcing discipline. It's the hardest because nobody wants to do it," he said. "Sometimes the hardest part is making sure people are following the standards. You don't always get liked for that, which is okay, because if you don't have the standards then you have chaos. "
The chief had another piece of advice for the future generation of servicemembers.
"If you get an opportunity to further your education, do it and use it to continue to grow as a leader," he said. Now as Chief Narofsky prepares to retire, he looks forward to spending time with his grandson and family, finishing his basement, and taking a little time off. Of course there will be things he will miss about serving.
"It will be tough because you get used to wearing the uniform, coming to work with a purpose and having great people around you," he said. "When you come to work you have a community. No matter what I do after this, it will be tough trying to find that same community. No regrets though, I've enjoyed every lasting moment. "