TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
The 72nd Air Base Wing welcomed its new Command Chief in May, Chief Master Sgt. Melissa Erb. A career defender, Chief Erb joins the ABW after nearly 26 years with Security Forces. Her 27-year mark in the Air Force will come in August.
Starting out from a small farming town in Wisconsin, the chief neared graduation unsure of the options ahead. Recognizing that the Air Force peaked her interest, she met with a recruiter and joined the delayed enlistment program. Watching her mother work as a nurse, Chief Erb thought the medical profession was the route for her, as well. Be as it may, life doesn’t always go according to plan.
Graduation came and went, but with no open slots in the medical career field, the now-chief made the decision to move from delayed enlistment to general enlistment.
“Security Forces was an option for me, so that’s where I ended up,” Chief Erb explained. “I wasn’t sure that was the right place for me. I was a shy kid, not very outgoing at all, but I learned very quickly that I would have to come out of my shell if I was going to survive in that career field.”
Fast forward 26 years, and the shy, not very outgoing young Airman made a difficult decision to hand in her badge and beret. The upside, she says, is knowing that the opportunity to reach and engage with a bigger amount of Airmen results in making a bigger positive impact.
After two and a half decades serving as a defender, the main task in the new role became understanding a different way to approach people. Joining a large civilian workforce, especially, Chief Erb recognized quickly that being very direct and abrasive was not going to be as effective. What was, however, going to be effective was something that she learned years ago, as that petite-framed female Airman. Proving to her counterparts that she was capable of doing the same job as well as they could, Chief Erb didn’t ever doubt her own abilities. She earned their respect and refused to let gender, stature, personality traits and the like, hinder her from becoming a successful Airman.
“My attitude is that, if you tell me ‘no’ I’m going to prove to you otherwise, period. I’m going to figure out how to get to ‘yes’ – as long as it doesn’t compromise my Airmen,” the chief said. “Challenges to me are opportunities.”
Though she thoroughly enjoyed the tremendous sense of pride and camaraderie that comes with being a Defender, the chief will channel that in a different capacity for the 72nd Air Base Wing. Emphasizing that learning that sense of pride has made a huge difference for her and who she has become, Chief Erb described it as a way of life, not just a job.
“I don’t wear the stripes for me. It’s about taking care of the Airmen’s needs and figuring out where they are. It all makes a difference in the end.”
Chief Erb joins the Air Base Wing from Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico. Having never been to Tinker, the chief is excited to absorb as much as she can, through immersions and other avenues, in order to tackle the big issues. Opening her aperture to the mission of Tinker because of its diversity, the chief looks forward to what can be done better, faster and more cost effective. With two months under her belt, she’s well on her way to turning this new opportunity into a solid, life-changing chapter of her Air Force career.