Jeep Chief: a time honored tradtion

  • Published
  • By Ms. Laura London
  • 49th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Chief Master Sgt. Kathleen Rose has been given a toy Jeep in a wooden box to hold onto in honor of the Jeep Chief tradition.

Chief Rose is the senior enlisted manager for the 49th Maintenance Operations Squadron, which provides support for the 49th Maintenance Group. She is an analyst by trade and oversees the day-to-day operations for 49 MOS "and whatever special projects the commander sends my way," she said. Her promotion was Nov. 1, but the Jeep is still in her office awaiting the next chief master sergeant's promotion.

"I get to store it until -- I think -- May," said Chief Rose. "I get to display it proudly until then, when I present it to the next chief."

The Jeep Chief is a longstanding Air Force tradition. The Jeep was initially given to the newest promoted chief master sergeant so the new chief could be easily identified by enlisted personnel, Chief Rose explained.

"I can't say when it started," Chief Rose said. "Twenty-six years ago when I first came in, I know they were doing it."

Throughout the military for many years, the Jeep has symbolized newly assigned or newly promoted personnel. It is considered one of the lowest forms of transportation in the military, "ranking just above the combat boot," as the plaque on the box in Chief Rose's office reads.

Possession of the Jeep indicates the bearer is in upgrade training and may, on occasion, revert back to the ways of a less experienced sergeant. During this time the new chief is called the Jeep Chief until the next chief master sergeant is promoted.

"It certainly is my honor to carry it," Chief Rose said. "It signifies my position as newest chief, which I worked hard to get. I don't mind if people know I'm the new one. That's fine with me."

Chief Rose said along with the Jeep she was given a list of tasks she had to complete, including visiting the other chief master sergeants on base. During the visits, the chiefs told her about their jobs. One objective of the list, she explained, is to get the new chief acquainted with the other chiefs and their work.

"The whole point is to get you out to the work centers of the other chiefs. It's a great way to meet folks and see what they do," said Chief Rose. "It forces you to be part of the group. You learn where they are, what they do; they find out what you do. It's a win-win situation."

Another task on her list was to meet the youngest cook on duty at the dining hall and have that person sign off on the list. "The point is, we're here to take care of people," Chief Rose explained.

Each chief must make a modification to the Jeep before turning it over to the next chief. Past chiefs have added a tiny American flag, little missiles, Marvin the Martian and more. Marvin, Chief Rose explained, was added in honor of those who work to make the Stealth Fighter invisible to radar; they are called "Martians."

"It has its own little personality," Chief Rose observed.

The Jeep comes with all of its own paperwork, including (but not limited to) its own identification card; SF Form 91, a motor vehicle accident report; DD Form 518, the accident identification card which provides anyone involved in an accident the identity of the person authorized to act on the matter; and AF Form 1800, the operator's inspection guide and trouble report. Chief Rose had to get authorization from vehicle maintenance in order to modify it, just like a regular size government owned vehicle.

"You know the bubbles in levels which tell you if something is off balance? I added one of those," Chief Rose said. "I added it because, when you think about it, that's what a chief needs to be -- balanced and level-headed."

The chief's Jeep also comes with a list of rules which the Jeep Chief must observe or, as rule number 7 states, pay a $5 fine to the Holloman Chief's Group Treasurer. During the first 30 days as Jeep Chief, the Jeep may be stolen -- an honorable pursuit, according to Jeep lore. Of course, if that happens, the chief is in violation of rules (1) to maintain custody, vigilance and control of the Jeep at all times and (2) to keep the Jeep in her direct possession during duty hours, at all military gatherings and at all official functions. Chief Rose said the penalty for a stolen Jeep is the Jeep Chief has to buy a round of beverages for all of the chiefs on the base -- and she should know, for the Jeep was stolen from her.

"The maintainer folks took it during exercises," Chief Rose said. "The day it was lost, it was on the corner of my desk and the folks from MXS borrowed it -- to take it on a little vacation, let's say."

On another occasion, Chief Rose said Col. Gary Bryson, 49 MXG commander, encountered her in the hall and asked, "Where's your box?"

"I thought at first he said 'boss,'" Chief Rose recalled. "I ended up running down the hall with Colonel Bryson hot on my heels. You get caught up in your normal activities and you forget, then you end up running like a maniac down the hall."

"I had to carry the Jeep from May to June," said Chief Master Sgt. Vyanne Roush, who presented the Jeep to Chief Rose at her promotion ceremony in November. "After June, the Jeep stayed in my office until the next lucky chief was pinned. No one attempted to take the Jeep. I am fortunate enough that I work in the Headquarters building and everyone is too busy to think about taking the Jeep! Nothing very exciting -- I think more happened to Chief Rose than to me."

After the initial 30 days, the chief no longer has to worry about the Jeep being stolen and gets to remain Jeep Chief until the next chief is promoted.

"I get the honor of keeping it until I have to pass it on -- that's why I put it behind glass, so people can look but don't touch," Chief Rose said, indicating a shelf behind the glass doors of a wooden cabinet which sits in her office. "I even cleared this space special for it."

Chief Rose said it is surprising how many people on base don't know the details of this madcap tradition.

"They ask, 'Can I see it? Is there really a Jeep in the box?'" Chief Rose said. "I've spent a fair amount of time showing folks there really is a Jeep in here."