By a chance social media post, I learned about the death of retired U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Bernard Carbon; it is a loss of one of the Air National Guard’s great enlisted leaders.
Chief Carbon’s biography and image are displayed on a wall here, at the Air National Guard’s training and education center in East Tennessee, which shows all 13 of the Air National Guard’s Command Chief Master Sergeants, since the position began in 1975.
The Chief died on September 9. He was 92. I knew his name but was not as familiar with him as the more recent command chiefs. So I walked over to that wall in my small gesture to honor him. Chief Carbon’s days as the senior enlisted advisor to the Director of the Air National Guard began more than 38 years ago. His 37 years of service in the U.S. Air Force started before many of us were born.
On the one hand, it is forgivable to be unfamiliar with such past decorated leaders; on the other hand, it is imperative to take these sad moments to honor them and share their stories. This reasoning is why we have such portraits and displays.
Chief Carbon’s story began in 1929 when he was born in Fort Scott, Kansas. He attended night school and graduated from Butler County Community College in El Dorado, Kansas, with an Applied Science Degree. He enlisted in the Air Force in 1948. He got assigned to the Military Airlift Command as a life support technician. The service sent him to Guam, Japan, and various stateside bases. He left the regular Air Force in 1952.
“That was Bernie, putting everyone else first.”
A year later, Chief Carbon joined the Kansas Air National Guard. He soon started a full-time technician job with the 127th Fighter-Bomber Squadron. As Materiel Facilities Supervisor, Maintenance Support Supervisor, First Sergeant, Supplies Management Supervisor, and Customer Support Branch Chief, he served as a critical leader, through five aircraft conversions during his career.
But certainly, the highlight of Chief Carbon’s military service was as the Air National Guard’s third senior enlisted advisor from August 1983 to July 1986. He took the position after Chief Master Sgt. Lynn Alexander and preceded Chief Master Sgt. Richard Green. According to Chief Green, the two of them interviewed for the job. Chief Carbon got the offer, but he included Chief Green in his activities and decisions going forward, likely to prepare him as a successor.
“Chief Bernie Carbon was an extraordinary Chief Master Sergeant, meaning he was an outstanding leader and motivator,” wrote Chief Green on Chief Carbon’s online memorial. “That was Bernie, putting everyone else first.”
Chief Green’s observation of Chief Carbon’s selfless leadership is an example of how we collectively recall our past and current senior enlisted leaders. We will honor and remember all our veterans this Veterans Day, November 11.
Leadership has a way of giving leaders, especially the good ones, a larger-than-life quality. If we did not serve with them or were not around during their time, we could still ask and read about them to get to know them. Even though I did not know Chief Carbon as I do some of our more current Chiefs, I am still inspired and reminded of him when I walk past his portrait. That is why I wrote this.