By never saying the word 'quit', chief moves to his next challenge, retirement

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Parker Gyokeres
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs
In his office, filled with the collected memories of world travels, is a rock engraved with a quote attributed to the artist Michelangelo; "Lord, grant that I may always desire more than I can ever accomplish."

When describing the 30-year career of Chief Master Sgt. Michael Mazzi, 23rd Wing command chief, this statement best represents his attitude toward leadership, unexpected challenges and a storied life in the Air Force.

On May 24, the military part of this journey will end with his retirement ceremony.

"When I enlisted the Air Force slogan was 'A great way of life,' said Chief Mazzi. "For me, it has been a great life. When I graduated from high school I wasn't the best student, but the Air Force allowed me to do things I never thought I could do. It drew things out of me that I never knew were in there."

It's not like he had the master plan to become a command chief laid out from day one, he said. Along with a few other educational accomplishments, Chief Mazzi has a degree in religious studies from Wayland Baptist University. So, it makes a bit more sense when he said he believes that God has a plan for everyone and he just listened for the opportunities.

"You would probably be surprised if I told you that I rarely ever planned anything in my entire career," he said. "However, if an opportunity arose for me to become a better Airman, a better leader or a better person, I never turned away from the challenge. I do not believe in quitting.

"To me, a failure is simply an opportunity to grow and overcome another challenge," he added. "If you aren't failing at things, you aren't trying hard enough, but to accept failure is to become one."

The challenges he chose to overcome took him all the way to Lake Placid, N.Y., in 1990, where he was a member of the United States Bobsled Team and won a national championship. He was also named as the Air Training Command Athlete of the Year for 1990, 1991 and 1992.

He said he identifies strongly with the men and women of the 23rd WG because his 'never say quit' mentality is embraced every day in missions performed by Flying Tigers everywhere.

"There isn't a more magnificent group of people anywhere in the world," he said. "I was overwhelmed with emotion as I looked out at the weapons platforms and group formations during our change of command ceremony. I thought about all the training and sacrifice it took to create and sustain such an awesome assemblage of talent. We can stack them against anyone, anywhere, at any time, and we will come out on top."

The chief said it pains him deeply to realize he is no longer going to have the privilege of leading his warriors.

"I love my Airmen," said the chief. "I would love to be down in everyone's section, doing the things they do. One of the travesties of my position is that I don't get to be everywhere I want to be. There is never enough time, especially now."

With this limitation in mind since the first day he took over as the 23rd Wing's command chief, Chief Mazzi said he made it a point to be 'out and about' in the wing whenever possible. He often talked with Airmen and briefed groups like the Airman Leadership School and First Term Airman's Course.

During these talks, he advises future leaders to never stop learning and never stop trying.

"Once you get to your duty sections, you must learn everything you can about your job and become a subject matter expert, because eight months from now, another new person is going to walk through the door," he said. "When that happens, you to need to be ready to show that person the way. How unforgivable if you do not know what to do, because you did not take the time to become the best, one day at a time.

"It's even worse if you are the boss and you have ignored your obligations as an NCO and as an Airman," he continued. "If you don't have the ability to teach your Airmen the ways of the job and the ways of leadership, you have failed them in ways that will have a lasting effect."

He advises Airmen and leaders to take it one day at a time, try to become the best in everything that's attempted and if a speed bump is hit, recover and continue.

"As I progressed through my career, I learned it takes hard work and perseverance in order to succeed," said Chief Mazzi. "Most importantly, you have to be able to recognize there are people greater than yourself who will help you get where it is you think you want to be. I have always been surrounded by people who were much stronger leaders and were more effective. They were my mentors and I learned from all of them to constantly change and forge myself."

With his time in uniform at a grudging end, because as he puts it "us old chiefs have so much fun we won't leave unless they kick us out," Chief Mazzi said he feels confident that he is departing on a high note. After his retirement, the chief and his wife are moving to Ohio to live closer to his family.

"Becky and I met as 'two-stripers' working together in the supply warehouse in March of 1979," he said. "She has been there with me since we were both pretty young and we joke that after 25 years of marriage, we ended up becoming the people we used to work for. It's been a real treat to have done this with her, and I couldn't have done this alone. It's time to move on, but this time, we get to choose where we want to live."

"This is the best Air Force I've ever been in at this point in history," he said. "I've poured my heart and soul into the Air Force for 30 years. Being in this job has been an absolute privilege."