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The last stripe: A Chiefs road to retirement

Airman Basic Jose Velez at Basic Military Training in 1983. Velez worked his way through the ranks over the course of 26 years and is now set to retire Feb. 28, 2021 with the rank of chief master sergeant. (Courtesy photo)

Airman Basic Jose Velez at Basic Military Training in 1983. Velez worked his way through the ranks over the course of 26 years and is now set to retire Feb. 28, 2021 with the rank of chief master sergeant. (Courtesy photo)

Chief Jose Velez Jr. former 459th Air Refueling Wing Command Chief, reenlists for the last time with former 459 ARW commander, Col. Doug Gullion. Velez will complete 26 years of military service on Feb. 28, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Cierra Presentado/Released)

Chief Jose Velez Jr. former 459th Air Refueling Wing Command Chief, reenlists for the last time with former 459 ARW commander, Col. Doug Gullion. Velez will complete 26 years of military service on Feb. 28, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Cierra Presentado/Released)

Chief Master Sgt. Jose Velez, Jr., former 459th Air Refueling Wing Command Chief, is set to complete 26 years of service to the military on Feb. 28, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Chief Master Sgt. Jose Velez, Jr., former 459th Air Refueling Wing Command Chief, is set to complete 26 years of service to the military on Feb. 28, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Chief Master Sgt. Jose Velez, Jr., former 459th Air Refueling Wing Command Chief, poses for a photo with his wife Ivelisse, during an awards banquet January 2019. Velez will complete 26 years of military service on Feb. 28, 2021. (Courtesy Photo)

Chief Master Sgt. Jose Velez, Jr., former 459th Air Refueling Wing Command Chief, poses for a photo with his wife Ivelisse, during an awards banquet January 2019. Velez will complete 26 years of military service on Feb. 28, 2021. (Courtesy Photo)

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. -- Chief Master Sgt. Jose Velez, Jr., former 459th Air Refueling Wing Command Chief, is set to retire Feb. 28, 2021, after 26 years of faithful and selfless service to our country.

Chief Velez was not always ‘Chief.’ He was once Airman Basic Velez in 1983, back when the uniform was an olive green color. He was only 18 years old.

“I remember going to the recruiting station when I was living in Staten Island, New York, with the intentions of joining the Marines, but as I was walking there, an Air Force recruiter stopped me and asked if I was interested in joining the Air Force,” he said. “I didn’t know what the outcome would be, but I talked to him and before I knew it, I was signing a six-year contract to join the Air Force.”

Velez began his career at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., and over the course of three years, he would make the rank of senior airman. While he enjoyed being an Airmen and learning his job, he realized those positions above him, such as first sergeants, were something that interested him.

“The role of the first sergeant was always something I was interested in during the start of my career. The way they took care of the Airmen really moved me, and I knew that it was a position I could see myself doing,” he said. “While I knew this was an option, I later decided to exit the military after my contract was over. Six years would be enough for me.”

Velez finished out his six-year contract and made the decision to end his short-lived career and return to his home state of New York.

“I wanted to transition to something else” he said. “The military was great, but I had other things I wanted to pursue.”

Velez returned to New York where he started a new career with the United Parcel Service. This new career would turn into a 27-year commitment alongside what was to come.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Velez was at work with UPS when he saw an airplane fly over his building that would hit the World Trade Center. Witnessing this tragic event, Velez was overcome with emotion and felt compelled to go to the nearest recruiter’s office and sign up for the Army National Guard.

“I felt the need to put back on the uniform and serve,” he said. “So many people were signing up for military service during this time. I knew I wanted to, once again, be a part of the small percent that would protect this country.”

Velez served in the Army National Guard for six months and later decided that since he had prior active-duty service in the Air Force, he would join the Air Force Reserve.

“My experience in the Army was great, but I knew that the Air Force Reserve would be something I was more into,” he said. “The environment of the Air Force was something I was more used to.”

Velez started his career as a traditional reservist with the 35th Aerial Port Squadron at Joint Base McGuire Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. He quickly began to progress through the ranks and picked up a few deployments along the way. Once he reached the rank of technical sergeant, Velez began acting as the “under shirt” for his unit. With the guidance of mentors, he was able to become a first sergeant shortly after making the rank of master sergeant.

“I always knew, ever since I was on active duty, that I wanted to be a ‘shirt,’” he said. “Getting a second chance, I wanted to work towards the goal and thankfully I made it. Being a first sergeant and working with Airmen and helping them through their problems really opened my eyes and made me realize that this is what I was meant to do with my Air Force career.”

In 2010, Master Sgt. Velez was selected to serve as a first sergeant and was assigned to the 78th Air Refueling Squadron. In 2012, he was selected to serve as the 714th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron First Sergeant and was promoted to Senior Master Sergeant. In 2015, during his deployment to the Middle East, he interviewed for and was selected as the First Sergeant of the 433rd Maintenance Squadron, Lackland, Air Force Base, Texas, which was the last CMSgt. position available in that field.

“While on deployment, I got the call that I got the position. The first thing I did was call my wife,” he said. “Without her, I wouldn’t have made it to that point. This was a big deal for our family, and I was excited to take on the role.”

Velez returned from deployment and transitioned his traditional reservist role from JBMDL to JBSA, where he served as the first sergeant of the 433rd Maintenance Squadron. During this time, he was also given the opportunity to fill in as the wing command chief. It was during this role that he and those around him knew he would one day become a wing command chief.

“I was given the opportunity by Chief Master Sgt. Brian Pinsky to fill in as command chief in his absence, he said. “This was a step up from first sergeant, and I knew I was ready for a new role in my career. I felt that I have fulfilled my duties as a ‘shirt’ over the years; I was ready for an ever bigger role.”

Velez soon earned the top enlisted rank of chief master sergeant and decided to apply and compete for the wing command chief slot at the 459th Air Refueling Wing here.

“I was at AFRC headquarters when I saw that there was a position opening up at the 459th,” he said. “It was closer to home, and I knew I was ready, so I took a chance and I applied for the position.”

Velez was with family members when he received a call from Col. Doug Gullion, who was the wing commander at the time, notifying him of his selection to fill the position.

“I was surprised. I was grateful. I thanked my wife” he said. “Again, none of this would not have happened if it wasn’t for her support. I called my mentors and thanked them as well. This positon would take me into retirement, and I was grateful for the opportunity to once again, lead and develop Airmen.”

Velez served as the wing command chief for the next 2.5 years. His experience with serving Airmen is the highlight of his career.

“There have been many memorable moments throughout my career, but the most memorable moments have been having an impact on Airmen’s lives. I encourage leaders today to make your Airmen a priority; you never know how you can impact their lives. It is our job as leaders to mold them into the next generation leaders. They are the future chiefs and future first sergeants of our Air Force.”

Velez advises Airmen to set goals and work towards them.

“Get your professional military education done, pursue your education outside the military, don’t wait on someone to tell you what to do, get out there and do it,” he said. “Making chief or becoming a first sergeant is achievable. I made it and so can you. Keep in contact with your mentors, and push yourself. Rank is earned, and if you want it, you have to work for it.”                                                                                                         

Retirement is around the corner for Chief Velez. He plans to dedicate his free time with his wife and family in his new home.                                                                         

“I’m excited for retirement,” he said. “The last few years at the 459th have been great; my entire career in the Air Force has been amazing. I know the wing is in great hands with the new command chief, Chief Master Sgt. Israel Nunez. He’s a great leader, and I know he will do great things for the wing.”