Commentary by Lt. Col. Jim St. Clair, 169th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. — This month, The SCANG News sits down with Chief Master Sgt. Larry Crowson, the State Command Chief for the South Carolina Air National Guard, who is retiring after 42 years of military service. As the top enlisted leader in the SCANG, Crowson is responsible to the Adjutant General and the Assistant Adjutant General-Air for quality of life issues and concerns of enlisted Airmen.
SCANG NEWS- Who’s that Solider in the picture on the left?
CHIEF CROWSON- (Laughing) That picture is from my basic training and AIT (Advanced Individual Training) graduation. I joined the Texas Army National Guard during my senior year in high school in March and then I went off to basic training in June 1972. It was all there at Ft. Polk, Louisiana. In the Army Guard, I was what they called a mortarman, a spinoff of an infantry Soldier. I was part of a three man team: one carries the plate, one carries the barrel and one guy is the ‘siter’ and zeroes [the mortar] in. Each week you rotate jobs and when it was my turn to be the siter, we had one of the best scores and my group ended up receiving a three day pass.
SCANG NEWS- What did you do after graduation?
CHIEF CROWSON- I returned home to east Texas and went to work on my family farm. It was more like a business. We hauled hay, milled feed, hauled water and in the winter I would milk cows. We also had a trucking business. I did that for a year and then decided to go on active duty in the Air Force.
SCANG NEWS- How did you decide to switch to the Air Force?
CHIEF CROWSON- I had heard, read, thought that the Air Force was more like a real job with more opportunities. All the recruiter did was process me in. I had already made up my mind. During that time I was driving a milk truck from Sulphur Springs, Texas to Fort Worth. I was making $200 a week which was a lot of money back then. We would drive in to Fort Worth, unload the milk, come back, weigh the truck and leave. Well, the guy there who did the weighing was retired Air Force. I can’t remember his name now. Anyway, he said to me “Man, you need to do something with your life other than drive one of these stupid trucks.” So he started talking about the Air Force and got me thinking about it. I was 19 years old and he seemed like he was 100 years old even though he was probably 40. After I signed in they flew us back to Lackland Air Force Base and after a couple days I took a bypass test to see if I could skip basic training. After I passed that, I went to Lowry Air Force Base for the munitions tech school and from there got assigned to Myrtle Beach Air Force Base.
SCANG NEWS- So how did you finally end up here at McEntire?
CHIEF CROWSON- When I was down at Myrtle Beach I got Airman of the Month, Airman of the Quarter and Airman of the Year. That was a pretty big deal at an Air Force base. At that time McEntire was transitioning to the A-7. So they sent people to Myrtle Beach to do what they call a hands on/training site survey. I started meeting those people and they would come into the cafeteria and eat breakfast. I saw them walking around and I asked who they were. I met Paul Childers, Danny Sightler and Stan Hood. I ate breakfast with those guys every morning and they started telling me about the Air Guard, the pay, the benefits, the career and I said “That sounds like me.” I came out to McEntire and was interviewed by (Brig.) Gen. Morrell and then I was interviewed by Lt. Col. Charlie Blount. I came up here three times. For some reason I was able to sell myself and I was right for the job. I came on fulltime orders and that transitioned into a fulltime job out here.
SCANG NEWS- Who were some of your influences and mentors?
CHIEF CROWSON- The ones I remember were definitely Danny Sightler, Ed Boozer, Billy Cobb, Jim Edwards and Jimmy Joye.
SCANG NEWS- What advice did they give you?
CHIEF CROWSON- First of all, there’s no book you can go read to explain how this thing all works. They always said “Do your best. Go to your schools. And pull as many active duty days as you can.” I think the last time I looked I’ve completed 55 military courses and CDCs.
SCANG NEWS- When you got to McEntire, they were your role models?
CHIEF CROWSON- Actually, I wanted to be just like Danny Sightler: personally, professionally, everything. He was the total package to me. He had a nice family and carried himself well. Billy Cobb kind of picked me up and I don’t want to say he made me go to the NCO Academy but he said “You’ve got to do this.” So I went to the NCO Academy and then he started hounding me to go to the Senior NCO Academy. So I go do that and when I made Chief, he said “You’ve got to go to the Chief’s course.” It appeared sometimes he wouldn’t hardly give me time to breathe. Those guys made sure I was doing the right thing at the right time. But going to all those academies were big steps in my life.
SCANG NEWS- And once you made it to their level, I assume you also had some words of wisdom for some younger Airmen?
CHIEF CROWSON- That’s what it’s all about. I’ve told them “Let me give you some friendly advice like someone once did for me.” I think that’s the biggest thing we do out here is that mentorship role.
SCANG NEWS- What are some pieces of advice you would share with someone just coming in now to the SCANG?
CHIEF CROWSON- Education, both military and civilian. You’ve got to have that check mark. There’s no way around it. I am particularly talking about your Community College of the Air Force (CCAF) degree which, by the way, will be mandatory in October of 2015. I tell everybody that the door only opens for a short period of time and if you don’t walk through it, you can’t roll time back. Same thing applies for Airman Leadership School, the NCO Academy and the Senior NCO Academy. When that door opens for you to do those things, you’ve got to do them because once you make the next rank you can’t back up and say “I wished I’d done that.” Bottom line is education: you’ve got to have that.
Another thing is involvement out here. I remember when I was new out here someone came up to me and said “You’re not involved in anything.” So I volunteered to be on every committee I could. You’ve got to step out of your comfort zone and do something other than just your job. You should be good at your job. But if you want to make it to the next level, you’ve got to do more.
SCANG NEWS- What are some of the changes you’ve seen out here in the last 30 years?
CHIEF CROWSON- You know, changes can be both good and bad and you can argue either way. But evidently the changes we have made [over time] have been good because we’re still here. We went from a flying club to weekend warriors to a ready, front-line force. And we can compete with the best in the world. And that’s shown in things like the Falcon Air Meet, Gunsmoke and so on. And I am talking about competing at the national level, not just at McEntire. One of the coolest things I have been able to do is that I’ve been a Chief for over 16 years and the year before I made Chief I started going and helping units get ready for inspections. And me, and the team that I put together, were part of helping make the Air National Guard and the Air Force what it is today. I’ve literally been all over the United States. And I’m not just talking about Guard units but helping active Air Force and Reserve units too.
The second thing I’ve seen out here is an improvement in the facilities: from the sun shades on the flightline to the new DFAC to the Medical Group to the Comm flight, to the tower. All thosebuildings have either been remodeled or rebuilt. The Army and Air Guard have figured out how to do all that. We wrote the book on how to improve facilities.
SCANG NEWS- Any changes regarding the people out here?
CHIEF CROWSON- I had a friend give me a book titled “The Laws of Leadership.” Thorne Ambrose was his name. This book changed my life and the way I was doing business out here. One of the quotes I like so much is: “A leader is one who sees more than others see. Who sees farther than others see. And sees before others do.” With that I would say we’ve always had exceptional leaders out here [at McEntire] at the right time. Both officers and enlisted. The leader today is definitely different that the leader back then. There’s more expected. He’s doing more.
One thing that I love to do is go down to the [South Carolina] Military Museum. If you go in there it’s got pictures of all the TAGs, all the Deputy Adjutants General, all the Command Sergeants Major, all the [Air] ATAGs, Chiefs of Staff and State Command Chiefs. Then it has all the Wing Commanders and Wing Command Chiefs. So I say we always had the right leadership at the right time. That’s been one of the key differences out here.
SCANG NEWS- What do you attribute that to?
CHIEF CROWSON- I think that mentorship kicked in. Just like Danny Sightler and Billy Cobb did for me. They saw more in me than I knew I had and they made sure I did the right things. If you have the right personality with the right skills set, then you will have the leader who’s looking ahead. I’ve always said that what’s going to happen today is going to happen. The train is coming down the tracks. The ship’s on course. So what are we going to look like in year[?]. I made a comment in a Chief’s meeting that in ten years you won’t be able to recognize this place. I’ve got a young group that I’ve tried to take with me on inspections, and encouraged them and those are the folks whose picture will be on that wall [in the SC Military Museum] where mine is now. There’s no doubt about it.
SCANG NEWS- What else is important?
CHIEF CROWSON- One of the key things out here I think is important is making sure the enlisted guy has a place at the table, for example, through the EFAC [Enlisted Field Advisory Council] Committee. Serving on that has given me a place at the table. If it wasn’t for Billy Cobb, I would not be on the EFAC Committee. We were up in [Washington] D.C. last December for the Senior Leaders Conference and this is who was there: the Chief of the Guard Bureau, the Director of the Air National Guard, the TAGs and the senior Army enlisted guys in the EFAC. No Wing Commanders, no Chiefs of Staff. I had a place at the table and a vote in all that stuff. Out of over 460,000 people in the National Guard and I was one of the 10 enlisted people there. That’s pretty cool. What’s also important is the spiritual part, as in “Are you spiritually ready to accomplish the mission?” That’s become such a big part and I think that if you don’t have that part down, you’ll never make it. You’ll be floundering forever.
Taking care of Airmen is also a big thing. That means that you’re smart in the system and you can given them good advice. Airmen need good advice about what to do in their lives and their careers. That’s what they need.
SCANG NEWS- Any other thoughts?
CHIEF CROWSON- I’ve got to make sure I thank my wife. My family has always supported me. Lord know my wife, Reneé, she must be 60 percent of what makes me good. Maybe even more than that.
SCANG NEWS- What will you be doing when you leave us?
CHIEF CROWSON- You hear some people say “I can’t wait until I retire.” I’ve never said that. My retirement from the Guard got here faster than I realized. I have been hired as the Executive Director of the South Carolina National Guard Association. The biggest thing we have to address is the membership and getting our numbers up.
SCANG NEWS- Any final thoughts?
CHIEF CROWSON- Looking back I wouldn’t change a minute of what I’ve done. It’s been fun.