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Chief's promotion highlights Air Guard's community ties

(From the left) Chief Master Sgt. Gil Quiroz, Senior Master Sgt. Sandra Ahern, Chief Master Sgt. Edisa Salcido and Chief Master Sgt. George Silvas gather to congratulate Sergeant Ahern on her pending promotion to the Air Force’s highest enlisted rank. The four are graduates from nearby Sunnyside High School. They, like many unit members, represent the wing’s connection to the Tucson community and are examples of the career opportunities the Guard offers those who serve. (U.S. Air Force photo/Maj. Gabe Johnson)

(From the left) Chief Master Sgt. Gil Quiroz, Chief Master Sgt. Sandra Ahern, Chief Master Sgt. Edisa Salcido and Chief Master Sgt. George Silvas gather to congratulate Chief Ahern on her promotion to the Air Force’s highest enlisted rank. The four are graduates from nearby Sunnyside High School. They, like many unit members, represent the wing’s connection to the Tucson community and are examples of the career opportunities the Guard offers those who serve. Chief Master Sgt. Rene Lopez (not pictured), also a Sunnyside alum and wing member is currently deployed. (U.S. Air Force photo/Maj. Gabe Johnson)

Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

TUCSON, Ariz. -- A diploma from Sunnyside High School is not a prerequisite for promotion to the Air Force's highest enlisted rank, but five chief master sergeants at the 162nd Fighter Wing here have both achievements in common.

Chief Master Sergeants Rene Lopez, George Silvas, Edisa Salcido and Gil Quiroz are all graduates from the South Tucson high school located less than a mile from the Arizona Air National Guard Base. They welcomed Chief Master Sgt. Sandra Ahern, a former school mate, to the unit's Chief Council when she was promoted to the rank Sept. 23.

Not only do they come from the same school and neighborhood, but they attended Sunnyside together in the late 1970s and early 1980s and have known each other for years.

"It's been nice to see Rene, Edisa, Gil and Sandra reach this level, and to be honest it hadn't dawned on me until recently that that the five of us are a rare story in the Air Force," said Chief Master Sgt. George Silvas, 162nd Medical Group superintendant. "When I take a step back, I realize that it's unique to have five chiefs at one unit that came from the same high school around the corner."

It's a coincidence that can only happen in the Guard. In the active duty Air Force, Airmen are moved around the world throughout their careers and rarely serve in their hometowns. Members of the 162nd Fighter Wing often enlist after high school and spend most of their military careers here.

A promotion to "chief" is never happenstance, however. By law, the Air Force promotes only two percent of its enlisted corps to the top grade. Airmen who attain it take on the duties of a senior leader and mentor. As most chiefs often admit, it's not a level they expected to reach when they first joined.

Sergeant Ahern, class of 1983, enlisted in the Guard in 1988 after seeing a recruiting ad in the newspaper.

"All I knew in high school was that there was a Guard unit on Valencia and I always saw the planes flying overhead," said Chief Ahern who currently serves as her unit's plans and resources branch chief.

She began her career as a traditional, or part-time, Guardsman. By 1993 she was hired full time. She worked in the communications flight, the personnel office, the wing commander's office and eventually returned to communications where she works today.

"George and I have known each other since elementary school," she said. "We used to walk to school together. I met Edisa in junior high school and I met Rene and Gil later on after high school. Historically, I don't know of any other time when five chiefs in the wing came from the same high school. But because our members have always been a reflection of the community we serve, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that this has happened here before."

Chief Silvas, class of 1983, joined the unit in 1986 while attending Pima Community College. He said at age 21 he was looking for a career with structure and wanted to be a part of a team.

"The Guard offered that as well as education benefits," said Chief Silvas. "I grew up hearing the sound of the jets too, but it was really the people I knew who were in the Guard that brought me in. Our members are long-time community members. Everyone in Tucson seems to know at least one person who is in the unit."

Chief Ahern attributes her success to the Airmen she's worked with over the years.

"In my career, I've been truly blessed to have met and worked with all the people here, both current and retired. You grow up with these people. Together you play on softball teams, participate in wing events together, and experience changes in the unit together," she said.

"What we have to do as chiefs is mentor the new generation serving the wing so that they have the same experience and success."

"A chief has a desire to implement change and work together," she said. "A chief is visible and knows what is going on in the wing, reserves judgment and does the right thing. I hope to be a productive chief master sergeant - engaged through interaction with people. I want to be there to listen and help people in their careers."

Chief Lopez, class of 1977, currently serves as the wing's chief of vehicle maintenance. He is deployed on a 6-month tour in Afghanistan, highlighting another aspect of the 162nd - the Tucson community members who serve the nation abroad and contribute on a global level.