JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. –
U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Christopher Gradel, 1st Fighter Wing Command Chief, has worked as the senior enlisted leader for the Air Force’s premiere fighter wing for the past year. Gradel reflects on his journey joining the Air Force, family traditions and how he hopes to continue impacting the 1st FW.
Fascinated by aircraft, he joined to pursue a career in avionics that unfortunately didn’t work out as planned. He was transferred into Logistics as a Supply Airman before eventually cross training as a First Term Airman into Communications.
To truly get an insight into what gives him purpose, we begin 23 years ago with a young Gradel, the son of two hard working parents, who just graduated from high school in Waco, Texas.
Why did you join the Air Force?
I was thinking of college. My parents never went to college, so it wasn’t a plan I had in place. I figured since all my friends were going, I should too. I didn’t realize you had to have a real plan of attack. I went into it unprepared, I struggled miserably and failed.
My dad came up to me one day and was like “This isn’t working out.”
Aviation had always interested me, so I figured I’d join the Air Force and fly planes. I was ignorant to the fact that you needed a college degree to fly, and I quickly realized that after meeting with the recruiter. I was still interested in joining the Air Force though, so I did.
What do you like to do when you aren’t in uniform?
Family is important to me. My wife Blair and I have two kids, Lucas and Merit, ages ten and eight. We like going on family vacations and spending time in beach environments. We are also a big amusement park family. Anytime I’m out of uniform, I’m with my family. Speaking of family, we are also an EFMP family. We understand the support challenges that sometimes occur having a family like ours. Blair and I try to mentor new families coming into the program and are strong advocates of the families/members on that EFMP journey.
What was the best piece of advice you’ve received in your career?
I call this the Mattox Moment. I was all thrust, no vector as a young Airman at my first duty station in 1999. I was going in different directions, didn’t know what I wanted to do with my career. My supervisor, Technical Sergeant Mattox, would take me outside for conversations and always say, “Gradel, don’t sweat the small stuff.” Looking back I get what he was saying. Whether it is home life or family life, life is always going to present challenges. Never get to high or too low. Don’t let things consume you.
It’s something I go back and reflect on daily. Life is too short to get spun up on one thing. It helps keep me focused on taking care of Airmen and my family.
How do you hope to impact 1st Fighter Wing Airmen as their Command Chief?
Impacting the 1st FW is really just giving people the tools they need to be successful. One of the important things we look at on the maintenance and operations side of the mission is making sure Airmen have what they need to do their jobs. We ask a lot of the women and men here at the wing and they always deliver. I am extremely proud of the work they do every day and humbled to be a part of the team.
Our 1st FW families are equally important. As leaders, we must take time to I listen to their needs. Without support for our families, our mission cannot be successful. Taking care of Airmen and families is my primary focus and what I live to do, day in and day out.
I love to cook on the grill every weekend. I know there are cheaters out there that grill with pellets—you know who you are. I’m old school and cook with wood and charcoal every time. My dad was big on the grill and some of my best memories were spending time with him learning to cook.
Are you a hunter or gatherer?
I’m always moving forward and in motion; I would consider myself a hunter. There’s a lot to be learned from a gatherer though. Gatherers are very strategic planners and hunters are always on the move, always looking to tackle challenges. I remind myself that one isn’t better than the other.
What is your sign?
I’m a Scorpio. I don’t know anything about the sign. I’m totally clueless when it comes to astrological signs.
Do you have any holiday traditions?
Holidays are big at Casa de Gradel. Halloween is huge for us. Every year we go all out with the Halloween decorations. For Thanksgiving, I call it more of a Texas Thanksgiving. I smoke ribs instead of turkey or ham. For Christmas, I like to cook a more Mexican-style breakfast for my family as my family has strong Hispanic roots.
Gradel says his mission as 1st FW Command Chief is to leave the wing better than he found it. He attributes the mission getting done to the great women and men working at the wing and hopes he can do everything in his power to make sure they are taken care of.
His first thought every morning when he gets up… “How can I do better than yesterday?”