Living link to AF past guides next gen

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Retired Chief Master Sgt. Joseph Mathis, pictured in the late 1940's and present day. (U.S. Air Force graphic illustration)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Retired Chief Master Sgt. Joseph Mathis, pictured in the late 1940's and present day. (U.S. Air Force graphic illustration)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The Air Force has seen sweeping changes in its 59 year history. While most Airmen have all been through some significant change or another, one man living in Lompoc has had the rare opportunity to see every one of those 59 years.

Retired Chief Master Sgt. Joseph Mathis enlisted as an electronics technician in October, 1946 when what is now the Air Force was known as the U.S. Army Air Corps. And after serving with the Army for a year, he and his fellow Soldiers evolved with the Air Force.

"It was really about a four-year process to transition from Soldier to Airman," Chief Mathis explained. "It was very hard to get used to being called Airmen. People made fun of our uniforms, asking us when the next bus left, but overall there was really an exciting time."

In a 22-year career that included being nominated as the second Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, he witnessed everything from the first major reduction in force, to the introduction of use of jet-powered airplanes, to the creation of what would later become Air Force Space Command.

Retired since 1968, the chief has maintained a strong tie to the Air Force. As an active member of the Vandenberg Chief's Group, he volunteers in the base community, speaking to classes at the Airman Leadership School about his experiences and explaining how their experiences will help shape the next generation of Airman.

"Today's Air Force has grown so much that I feel like I'm out of step with time," he said with a laugh.

Even with all of the changes, the chief believes strongly in looking back at the past to help build the future.

"Can we learn from the past? I think we already have," Chief Mathis said. "Today's Air Force reflects what the past has taught us. History is something that should be of interest to everyone and we can never move away from the history of what we stood for in the Army Air Corps days."

"Now, that being said, learning from the past is one thing, but we still need to keep what is in the future ahead of us. We should never become complacent," he said.

And even though Chief Mathis believes things must change to promote growth, he has noticed that some things do stay the same, and he likes it that way.

"The camaraderie has not wavered one bit since I came into the military," the chief said with a smile. "People ask me if I miss the uniform, and I don't really miss it, but I really miss what it stands for. I served for 22 years in corporate life after I left the military and the camaraderie was never anything like it was in the military."

With a life and career that has followed the Air Force throughout its history, Chief Mathis has taken his opportunities to live the life of an Airman. He continues to help guide the next generation of Airmen into a future of unknown and exciting changes.