09/16/08 — New command chief takes over post at Seymour Johnson AFB

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New command chief takes over post at Seymour Johnson AFB

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on September 16, 2008 1:37 PM

It was a simple photograph -- an image of a N.C. National Guardsman circulating around a middle school.

SJAFB Command Chief

News-Argus/Mitch Loeber

Chief Master Sgt. Leroy Frink speaks to new airmen on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base Monday.

But from the moment it caught Leroy Frink's eye, it meant more to him than other pictures he saw as a boy.

"He was wearing fatigues," Frink said. "I thought, 'Wow. This is cool. I'll join the Army.'"

More than three decades later, that eighth-grade memory still plays in his mind.

Only he didn't join the Army.

Instead, Frink followed in the footsteps of his own brother, enlisting in the Air Force in 1981.

"I got in trouble my first week of basic training," he said. "I started wondering if I was doing the right thing."

He had no idea then that he would work his way up the enlisted ranks, that he would be named 4th Fighter Wing command chief one day.

Not when all he really wanted was to get out of the "small, rural town" he grew up in.

"I didn't want to end up working in the agriculture or textile industry. I knew that," Frink said. "So the idea was to join the Air Force, learn a trade and then go do something else."

His first assignment changed his mentality.

He was attached to the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing at George Air Force Base, Calif. -- a wing, he says, is not so different from the 4th.

"I was trained in egress -- working with ejection seats," Frink said. "When I got to my first assignment, I said, 'Wow. This is what egress does. It's responsible for saving lives.' At that point, I knew I was doing the right thing."

Frink decided to make military service a career.

Still, he never allowed himself to "dream that big."

"My goal was to do 20 years, hopefully be a master sergeant," he said. "I thought that would be a pretty successful career. Now, command chief? No. Never in my wildest imagination did I think I would end up here."

So when he got the call -- after 14 years in egress and 11 as a first sergeant -- is was quite a shock.

"I said, 'Oh my God. I can be command chief and I can possibly end my career where I started it -- on a fighter base with iron on the ramp, with young technicians who make that mission happen,'" Frink said. "What more can someone ask for? Only in this country."

He calls the assignment "humbling," and vows to be a champion for those enlisted airmen under his command.

Maybe that is why he welcomes talking about just how good they are.

"When I came in, we were not a nation at war. We joined the Air Force to get away from Mom and Dad, to get an education, to learn a trade," he said. "Our airmen today, they enter our Air Force knowing we're a nation at war ... that, 'Yeah. I might deploy to a combat zone before my four years are up.'"

Their commitment is what keeps Frink going.

That and knowing that by sharing his own story, he might leave a similar impression than the one a photograph left on the eighth grade version of himself.

"I share the story because there might be that on person who comes from a small place like Chadbourn, N.C.," he said. "I tell them so they know, 'Yeah. In the Air Force, anything is possible."