In the Land of the Sand Came the First SEA

  • Published
  • By Mr. Rick Shea
  • 49th Fighter Wing historian
This is the second article in a series of Air Force Enlisted Heritage articles.

In the history of the 49th Fighter Wing, there have been 14 chief master sergeants that have assumed the mantle of enlisted leadership, all with varied styles of leadership, all with different career paths, yet all had the same goal, the same concern - the betterment of quality of life in regard to the enlisted force! In this month's continuing series on Enlisted Heritage - we look at the 49th Fighter Wing's first Senior Enlisted Advisor - Chief Master Sergeant Frank Gentile.

"To advise commanders on matters impacting the enlisted force, such as proper
utilization, ... and quality of life. They monitor compliance with Air Force standards.... To maintain a liaison between their commander ... and communicate with commanders on problems, concerns, morale and attitudes of the enlisted force. To also ensure their commander's policies are known and understood by the enlisted force...." These are the directions given to command chief master sergeants per AFI 36-2618 upon assignment.

This was not always the case! Let's go back to 1977, when Col. Eleas Casillas, 49th Fighter Wing commander, caught wind of a yet to be created position on the wing staff. That position was the wing's senior enlisted advisor. Never one to sit idle, Colonel Casillas knew exactly who he wanted to serve in that new position - the 49th Organization Maintenance Squadron's recently arrived first sergeant, Chief Master Sgt. Frank Gentile.

Chief Gentile had served the Air Force in a multitude of ways prior to Holloman Air Force Base. Early in his career, Airman Second Class Gentile served as a Basic Military Training Instructor in Oakland, Calif., in which he proudly exclaimed that he introduced over 1,300 young men to the Air Force. After his days as a TI, then-Sergeant Gentile served as an Aircraft Control and Warning Specialist, where he earned his Distinguished Flying Cross and 11 Air Medals. The Chief served two tours in Vietnam performing his ACW duties in OV-10s, O-2s and EC-130s. In all, Chief Gentile flew 235 combat missions over Laos and Vietnam with the bulk of those missions aboard the EC-130. Chief Gentile also flew aboard the EC-121 while stationed at Otis AFB, Mass. Chief Gentile then became a First Sergeant some years prior to his Holloman arrival.

The first task facing the new senior enlisted dvisor proved to be a daunting one. Extremely low morale and numerous barracks in "deplorable" condition. The chief felt that with the poor living conditions came low morale and if he upgraded the Airman's off-duty surroundings, he could thus improve morale. After replacing more than three dozen unserviceable refrigerators and replacing yards after yards of dormitory carpeting, morale began to steadily improve.

Housing for enlisted members proved to be a constant issue as well as problematic for Chief Gentile, as he faced a severe housing shortage during the F-4 to F-15 conversion throughout 1977 and early 1978. We're all familiar with the "make do with what you have" adage, and that is what the 49th was forced to do. Airmen were reluctantly forced to triple-up in the dormitories until the chief and BEAR Base (MOBBS back then) put their heads together. Their solution - erect temporary shelters to be used as interim barracks! While maybe not the most accommodating billets, they were much preferred in respect to space, as they were less confining in terms of actual living space, when compared to three per room!

On the topic of leadership, the chief always felt there were three keys to being an effective leader - compassion, the ability to communicate and good listening skills. How could a leader be effective if he had no compassion for what it was he expected the younger Airmen to do?

Asked what he would tell the Airmen of today's 49th Fighter Wing, if given the opportunity, Chief Gentile stated "I am a patriot. Service to our country and service to the Air Force is one of the most important things that I think they can do. The defense of our nation is vital and they should never forget their role, be it a small one in some instances, which they have in defending our nation and serving our Air Force. Sometimes they lose track of the service they are doing and many, too often consider it just a job. If that's the case, stop and refocus, our nation comes first, Air Force and of course, family, never lose track of what their service to this country is all about. Even when the smallest task often times may seem unimportant; remember it is still part of what they need to do in defending this great country of ours."

In April 1981, Chief Gentile, battling physical issues with his back, handed over the reins of the enlisted corps' leadership to a friend he had known since the two were stationed together in northern Germany, Chief Master Sgt. Werner "K" Koelln. After 26 years of service to his country and his beloved Air Force, still battling physical issues, Chief Gentile, feeling that sense of duty before self and for the good of the Air Force, due to his physical limitations chose to retire. Yet, retire he did not. Answering the call to duty and the call to lead, now Chief (Ret) Gentile served the Hollomogordo community as an elected City Commissioner from July 1991 through March 1994 and as president of the Chamber of Commerce.

Appearing as though he could still fit into that Air Force uniform he retired in 26 years ago, Chief Gentile and his sidekick Goldie remain active through RVing and Chamber events.

Remember Chief, the coffee pot is always on!