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NEWS | March 14, 2024

The Crossroad to Command Chief

By Senior Airman Chloe Shanes 633d Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Many junior enlisted individuals may see senior leadership and imagine how perfect their careers and lives must be. What Airmen may not consider is regardless of rank – everyone has their own personal struggles. What some may not have considered is that those senior leaders were one mistake away from a very different future behind bars. Thanks to the military, some people were not only able to overcome those mistakes, but able to become a command chief.


Growing up in a low-income, single-parent household, Chief Master Sgt. David Kolcun, 633d Air Base Wing command chief, faced many challenges in his early years. As a teenager, he ran around with a rough crowd and felt stuck. While constantly job hopping and couch surfing, he turned to mischief, which led him down the wrong path. When faced with charges, Kolcun and his lawyer offered the court the option of enlisting in the military. Standing at a crossroad, he grasped the opportunity at his feet to positively change his life.


“The judge agreed to those terms,” said Kolcun. “The court allowed me to pick the service, but I was very thankful to be allowed this opportunity, because the path I was on had jail-time on the horizon.


“This was a time when I was quite aimless. I knew there was an Air Force base close to home in Tampa, so I thought, ‘I could do this.’ I’d like to think that I could’ve been successful within any job but being in medical administration turned out to be the best fit for me.”


Though he enlisted in 1995, Kolcun shares, it wasn't until April 1998 that he truly joined the Air Force. He noted what a positive role-model his first supervisor, former Staff Sgt. Michael Barksdale, had been for him during these formative years. 


“At that time, I wasn’t looking past my first enlistment.” said Kolcun. “Barksdale showed me by example that you can build a life within the military. He had a family, went to school, and had all the life things that I looked forward to.


“He never said anything specific to me that made me change my mind, but he was certainly someone I looked up to. I thought to myself ‘Maybe I can do this’.”


With this example motivating him, Kolcun began to apply himself and excelled in various positions, providing him with opportunities he never thought possible. He was selected twice to work for retired Lt. Gen. Paul Carlton Jr., at both the 59th Medical Wing and then the Pentagon several years later. It was during these work experiences Kolcun said he felt he was part of something bigger than himself.


“As Lt. Gen. Carlton’s executive assistant, the quality time spent with him began to change my mindset on what it meant to be a professional Airman,” said Kolcun. “He told me stories from his career, and his father’s Air Force career, and it showed me what it really meant to stand on the shoulders of giants, and the reasons why we do what we do.”


As the years progressed and Kolcun climbed through the ranks, his experiences before the military helped him to have more compassion and empathy for Airmen who came from similar backgrounds and struggles. This made him more passionate about helping others grow and strive for successful careers.


“As a command chief, I get to help our commander take care of Airmen and Soldiers across Joint Base Langley-Eustis,” said Kolcun. “I get to have an impact on the mission that I otherwise would not have, had I not applied myself all those years ago.


“I’m honored to be in a position where I can be one of the commander’s sage advisors, utilizing 30 years’ worth of experience to provide insight and perspective that others might not be able to.” 


From being court mandated into military service to working in the U.S. House of Representatives as an Air Force Legislative Fellow and then becoming a command chief, Kolcun reflects on his career with no regrets, saying he wouldn’t change anything about his journey as it brought him to where he is today.


“I look back on my life and I sat in jail for a while for criminal mischief,” said Kolcun. “So, everything I’ve done since then puts it all into perspective.


“I went from sitting in jail, to sitting in Congress writing laws, to becoming a command chief. Life is nothing more than a bunch of experiences stitched together, so I always encourage people to raise their hand and step outside their comfort zone. You never know where that path may take you.”


Kolcun hopes his story inspires anyone feeling lost or aimless, showing them, they too, can change their path and have a positive impact on something bigger than themselves.