Emptying the Bucket

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Darrell Hamm
  • 118th Wing

    After nearly 31 years in an Air Force uniform with the Tennessee Air National Guard in Nashville, Tenn. Chief Master Sgt. Robert Ussery will retire. Ussery began his military career in July 1987. While visiting his brother on base, also in the Air National Guard at the time, Ussery was introduced to the maintenance chief who promptly offered him a job on the spot.

  “Chief Chuck Gilmore was the maintenance chief at the time,” said Ussery. “When I walked in he said, ‘My God! You’re Ussery’s brother ain’t you?’ I said, ‘yes sir.’ He said, ‘You want a job? I’ll hire you.’ He changed my life that day.”

      Ussery spent his career as a C-130 Hercules crew chief, in operations as air field management, as an Airlift Control Element (ALCE) supervisor, and eventually transitioning into intelligence as the group superintendent. Throughout his career, regardless of the job, his focus has always been on selfless service and constant improvement.

    “I’ve just tried to learn a lot from a lot of different people and a lot of different perspectives,” said Ussery. “Most of my mentors… have been solid Airmen and those are the ones I’ve tried to emulate over the years.”

     After three decades of military service, Ussery realizes that resiliency is the key to success even if the fit isn’t exactly right.

    “There’s been lots of times that I’ve wondered if this was the right call for me,” said Ussery. “As a matter of fact all of the [personality] tests I’ve taken point back to my personality saying the two worst professions for me are police and military. But the fact is I’ve almost been as close to a government entrepreneur as you could be because since 1998 I’ve been the superintendent or in jobs that nobody else has had before.”

    Ussery helped build the 118th Wing ALCE unit from the ground up as the first full time person there. He credits good leadership and a strong work ethic for the success there. Then when the 118th received its new Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance mission Ussery was, once again, first on the scene.

    “When [the ISR mission] came along with Shawn Anderson and we went from two to 206, there’s no template,” said Ussery. “Even though the strict, autocratic military lifestyle may not be exactly the best fit for me, the ability to maneuver within a system where I have the resources to make things happen that can build upon a construct has enabled me to learn how to build and work organizations.

    “We’ve been out front. We’ve led. That’s what we’ve done. We’ve been the ones that have been out making the new paths, doing the new things, leading the charge.”

    His steady demeanor and service oriented work ethic resonates with everyone on base even to the highest levels.

    “I’ve never known the Guard without Bobby here,” said Col. Marty Hagar, vice commander of the 118th Wing. “Whenever you encounter Bobby he always has this infectious smile. He’s always been somebody that would reach out to help people either here or outside the fence without being asked. He always wanted to take care of people. I can see why he’s a chief.”

    “He’s a down to earth person, dedicated, believes in the mission,” said retired Chief Master Sgt. James Ensley. “Whatever mission you give him he’s going to do it from day one all the way to the end. “It’s been an honor working with him. He’ll work until he gets the job done that’s the thing I like about him. He’s a team player.”

    “I like serving. I like taking care of people,” said Ussery, “More of my enlisted members become officers than probably any other chief that’s been on this base. They did the work but I’ve always pushed them to be better, to be out front, to look at things from new perspectives, and to try to set that tone of servitude. You’re serving people. You’re not there to be served.”

    Ussery has enjoyed a very long and eventful career that has spanned three decades and many key life events. There is one event in his career, however, that stands out above the rest.

    “My most memorable moment was when I walked into the ALCE office and saw the planes crashing into the buildings in 2001 on that [Tuesday] morning,” said Ussery, “That was the last day that this road out here was open. That was the day that the world changed.”

    Ussery’s career has taken him all over the world, but he has never forgotten his roots or the people who are at the center of everything that motivates him.

    “I’ve been all over Africa, nearly every country in the middle-east. In and out of Somalia, into Bosnia,” said Ussery, “I was with a crew from Delaware that was the first aircraft that actually got shot up and mortared in Sarajevo when we landed and was doing an ERO (engine running offload). We got a write up in the Air Force Times.

    “My greatest fear is that we’ve forgotten who we really serve and that’s the people of Tennessee. That’s who we’re here to serve. We are the Tennessee air force first. I know that’s not a popular thing to say but I can say it. We’re here to protect our citizens, take care of Tennessee first and then take care of the country.

    “I’m not done yet. I may not be here but I’m not done yet. I’ve still got a story and part of it is serving the state of Tennessee in some way.”

    Service is Ussery’s main focus and the message he has for any new airmen entering the military.

    “I would say be patient and be selfless,” said Ussery, “The one thing I have the most concern about right now whether it’s in business or in the military or in any aspect of life right now is the fact that I feel like there’s this huge desire for people to do things bigger than themselves and they want to do that because we really glamorize being the hero or being the guy out front. I think we’re missing a chance to teach followership.

    “My message to them would be to be patient and be humble and good things will work out for them.”

    A thirty plus year career in the Tennessee ANG has yielded many ups and downs, funny times as well as sad, but definitely much wisdom; wisdom that Ussery wants to make sure is passed to the next generation airmen.

    “I’m proud of the fact that we’ve got so many good, young people that are so interested in doing those professions of arms,” said Ussery, “ This is vital work that they’re doing.”

    “While the future looks really good with all of our technology and all of our new mission sets and all the things that we have coming down the pike and that are here, I’m a little apprehensive about the future of the hearts. The future of the minds is brilliant! It’s the future of the hearts that’s going to be the game changer. Where’s the heart?

    “I spent 30 years filling up my bucket. I’m trying to spend the last little bit pouring it out. Pouring it back to where it needs to be back to these young folks. Mentoring is not a form. It’s not a program. It’s got to come from the heart. People know when you’re real. You can’t fake caring about somebody’s family or caring about their future. You can say you can and then move on with your career and keep pressing. But you really can’t fake it if it’s real.”