By Staff Sgt. Don Branum
Academy Public Affairs
The newest addition to the Air Force Academy family grew up living and breathing the Air Force as the son of a chief master sergeant. He would later become the son-in-law of a chief, and in 2005, he became a command chief in his own right. Now the top enlisted Airman at the Academy, Chief Master Sgt. Todd Salzman wants to know more about the men and women who create the Air Force’s future leaders.
Chief Salzman entered the Air Force in 1982 after graduating from Cabot High School in his hometown of Cabot, Ark., in 1981. His initial career field was administrative support.
“My first assignment was as an administrative support specialist at 8th Air Force” at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., Chief Salzman said. “I was the only junior enlisted Airman there.”
In June 1986, he cross-trained into in-flight refueling and moved to Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, where he met his future wife, Kelly.
“Her dad was the senior enlisted adviser at Dyess, so here I was, a strapping young Airman dating the chief’s daughter,” Chief Salzman said. “We get along great, and I’ve learned a lot from him.”
The chief deployed to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, as part of Operation Desert Shield in 1990. He was on the boom of an 804th Refueling Wing (Provisional) KC-135 Stratotanker the night combat operations first began against Iraq on Jan. 17, 1991.
“Flying my first combat support sortie was everything I hoped it would be, and it was also a tad bit scary,” he recalled. “But that’s when you realize that your training is spot-on. All of us did our jobs that night without talking – we were under an all comm-out order.”
Chief Salzman returned to the Middle East in July 2004 to support Operation Iraqi Freedom as superintendent for the 306th Operations Group in Southwest Asia.
“I talked with my boss and told him that I needed to be
out there with my crew if I were to have a good sense of what they needed,” he said. “The boss let me live in the crew tents and run with the crews for two weeks.”
After he returned from his deployment, Chief Salzman became the command chief for the 22nd Air Refueling Wing at McConnell AFB, Kan. From there, he went to 13th Air Force, the warfighting component for Pacific Air Forces, at Hickam AFB, Hawaii.
“Thirteenth Air Force was an awesome assignment – just incredible,” he said.
Lt. Gen. Chip Utterback is the 13th Air Force commander.
“Chief Salzman is a friendly and approachable guy, and he is also one who expects the best of those around him,” General Utterback said. “He sets high standards, then gives people the tools to ensure they can meet those standards. The chief signs his correspondence with ‘In Service,’ and he lives that signature. He is a teacher and a tremendous mentor.”
The chief worked with foreign air forces during his 13th Air Force assignment to help them develop their own enlisted airmen. Among PACAF’s working partners were Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, New Zealand, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.
“The backbone of any air force is its enlisted corps, and Chief Salzman showed remarkable vision in helping other nations in the Asia-Pacific region improve the professionalism of their enlisted men and women,” General Utterback said. “His personal, direct connections built the kinds of partnerships that are vital to a stable Asia-Pacific theater. I’m excited that Chief Salzman will be able to share these experiences with our Air Force’s future leaders, because building partnerships with other nations will continue to be vital to our national security.”
Future officers must also be aware of what the Air Force’s enlisted corps can offer, the chief said.
“What’s important as we build these young men and women into leaders of character is that they have the opportunity to interact with the same enlisted Airmen that they will lead,” he said. “They’re going to lead Airmen who have been to war, some of them multiple times. We have to make sure we prepare the cadets for that. We call ourselves the backbone of the Air Force, and we are – we have to demonstrate that and let the cadets know what the enlisted corps brings to the fight.”
In addition, the Academy’s enlisted Airmen must, at every level, understand their role in shaping the next generation of Air Force leaders, Chief Salzman said.
“We have 4,400 F-16s here on the hill, and we’re all crew chiefs,” he said. “We have to get our enlisted force to talk to the cadets and let them know that basic leadership is absolutely necessary in a combat zone.”
Toward that end, Chief Salzman said he aims to get out and about.
“I want to have the opportunity to make myself available to everyone – the enlisted corps, the officer corps, faculty, cadets – everyone,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting out and meeting with all of the organizations on base, whether it’s the Cadet Wing, the 10th Air Base Wing, the academic department, the dean of the faculty, the commandant, the whole nine yards.
“I’m looking forward to hearing people’s stories, to hear what it is that they do. I like to talk to folks and hear about what they do because I believe our Airmen are the most educated, most trained, most dedicated, most professional in the world,” he continued.