Chief Murray reflects on 29-year career
By Carl Bergquist, Air University Public Affairs
/ Published May 15, 2006
MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --
After 29 years of service and four years in the Air Force’s top enlisted position, Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Gerald Murray will step down during his retirement ceremony in June.
Chief Murray, the 14th CMSAF, officially retires in October.
“For a guy who joined the service because he needed a job to end up Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force was far more than I ever expected,” Chief Murray said. “What I’m most proud of in my career was having the privilege and opportunity to lead and represent the more than 440,000 enlisted members of the service.”
He entered the Air Force in 1977 after two years of college and has seen great change in the service. He said the enlisted force of today is “truly a better force” than it was then, and he attributes much of the change to efforts of those who came before him.
“To paraphrase President Truman, ‘We serve on the shoulders of giants.’ That is why today’s Airmen are more efficient, better educated and the most qualified in the history of the Air Force,” Chief Murray said.
At the height of the Cold War, Chief Murray served at a Victor Alert Pad in Turkey, then transitioned from that job to the A-10 aircraft. The transition led to his assignment with operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
“Desert Storm was a monumental moment in my career because the Air Force gave me the opportunity to use my skills at a forward operating base,” he said. The assignment also led to a Bronze Star, an Air Force Gen. Lew Allen Trophy and a promotion to chief.
Chief Murray said he had set a goal for himself as a staff sergeant that if he stayed in the Air Force, he was going to make chief. Once he made chief, he aimed for and attained his next goal: to be superintendent of a fighter group. He never really wanted to be a command chief, or senior enlisted advisor as they were called at the time, and never entertained the idea of being CMSAF.
“Becoming a chief was a highlight of my career, but I had a lot to learn,” he said. “I had become ‘stove-piped’ in maintenance and now found myself having to deal with all aspects of the Air Force.”
Chief Murray handled it well, moving from the wing level to a numbered Air Force and then to command chief of Pacific Air Forces before being selected as CMSAF in 2002. He said at PACAF, while being considered for the CMSAF job, he thought he was too young and too inexperienced to make a good CMSAF.
“Once selected, I stepped forward to do the best job I could, to deal with challenges that came along and deal with what I didn’t know about the job,” he said. “One thing I didn’t know was that Gen. John Jumper, then Chief of Staff of the Air Force, was going to make my first priority his new ‘Fit to Fight’ fitness program. That was going to be a real challenge.”
One accomplishment Chief Murray is especially proud of—one that took him three years to achieve—was getting chief slots at the group level.
“I believe the group level is so important that it needs a chief,” he said.
The chief also feels putting three-year mission limits on all chiefs and sometimes increasing the time in grade requirement before retiring to three years have proven to be better ways of managing the one percent of the Air Force enlisted corps that makes chief.
Chief Murray said he has always tried to use every available tool, such as focusing on developing Airmen capability, career job retraining and balancing the force.
He hopes that has led to an improved enlisted force.
“I took it upon myself that part of the job of (CMSAF) was to reshape the force,” he said. “When I arrived four years ago, I told the College of Enlisted Professional Military Education, ‘I can’t tell you how to do your job, but warrior ethos must be emphasized in PME.’” He was pleased to see Air University Commander Lt. Gen. Stephen Lorenz include that message in his mission briefs.
Chief Murray said his career, “as with all things, has had highs and lows.” There have been challenges and sacrifices, and his wife and three children have sacrificed the most.
As for what’s next in his life, Chief Murray said he really doesn’t have any hard plans for the future. He’s looking at several opportunities such as continued education or government service as a civilian. He also plans to build a house “with my own two hands” and hike the entire Appalachian Trail.
“One has to balance one’s life and every life has seasons,” he said. “The past four years have been a season of being away from home a lot, and I owe my family a season of being around them.
“One thing is for sure, though,” he said. “Someday, I will retire to that home I built in the hills of North Carolina.”