Wing command chief imparts advice, farewell to Airmen
By Tech. Sgt. Amaani Lyle, 459th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
/ Published March 08, 2009
ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE, Md. -- A teenage girl, curious about what the blue-suited neighborhood recruiter was all about, decided taking her friend and trying to join the Air Force would be the best way to find out.
The rigor of the initial fitness exam proved too much for the young girl, but the friend she persuaded to accompany her did indeed pass and went on to join the Air Force. Twenty-nine years later, that friend is now Chief Master Sgt. Patti Hickman, who after 24 years here at the 459th Air Refueling Wing and previous incarnations, will depart in April.
"No one in my entire family had ever been in the Air Force; I was the youngest of six children and just curious about it because a friend asked me to sign up with her," Chief Hickman said. "I never imagined it would take me on such an amazing life-long journey."
After her parents signed a permission slip in 1980, then Airman Basic Hickman completed basic training and joined the 1700th Supply Squadron on Andrews AFB as an active duty troop, before joining the Air Force Reserve in 1985.
"My parents knew I was determined," Chief Hickman said. "They really didn't have to worry about whether or not I would stay in the Air Force and succeed - they knew I loved every minute of my enlistment."
A Washington native who grew up in District Heights, Md., Chief Hickman spent some time as an Air Reserve Technician before pursuing further professional development in the 459 Logistics Support Squadron (later 459th Logistics Readiness Flight), which ultimately led to her selection as master sergeant and eligibility for chief.
When Chief Hickman earned her eighth stripe in January 2003, just two years later she would be able to boast her selection as the first female command chief in the history of the 459th ARW. Excited and honored to achieve the prestigious position, Chief Hickman credited her mentor, former command Chief Master Sgt. Ed Miller as a driving force in her career.
"In the 1992 Inaugural Parade, Chief Miller was like a father figure," Chief Hickman said. "He made sure we looked sharp and even flew in training instructors from Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, to make sure we looked our best - they whipped us into shape!"
Chief Hickman has carried on the tradition of taking care of people and made sure to be a living example of the high standards she always encouraged her Airmen to achieve.
"I was always proactive in staying ahead in professional military education, but when it came to earning my degrees, I really had to 'walk the talk,'" the chief said. "When I first joined there were no online classes, and although I started a little later, once my children were older, I went back to finish school."
Chief Hickman has since earned her Community College of the Air Force degree in logistics, and both associate's and bachelor's degrees in business management from Grantham University.
"I playfully wanted to get my bachelor's degree before my oldest daughter, Katrina, did," Chief Hickman said with a chuckle. "But she ended up beating me by a few months."
Chief Hickman said all the years of school notwithstanding, the most important thing she learned during her career was a simple practice she mastered in the Air Force.
"I learned to listen," she said. "Every time you speak to someone, you have no idea what they've been through and what they bring to the table. I learned to be sensitive to and aware of our diverse experiences."
Perhaps the diversity of her Airmen has most moved Chief Hickman, who described herself as "amazed" at the spectrum of talent in today's young Air Force members.
"I have seen the most eager, enthusiastic people and smart people in our Airmen," the chief said. "I challenge them to leverage that knowledge and continue to improve upon our Air Force."
Chief Hickman said the collective efforts of Airmen, first sergeants and chiefs she had regular meetings with helped her stay in tune with Air Force trends and perspectives from the field.
"I even met regularly with all the chiefs on base - in the Navy, Air National Guard and active duty."
The chief described her pending departure as another chapter in the breadth of experience chiefs need to help and mentor others. She will remain on base as an Individual Mobilization Augmentee with the Air Force District of Washington.
The legacy of inspiration Chief Hickman has left has not only inspired thousands of Airmen, but her own daughter, Airman Tara Hickman, a 459th Aerospace Medical Squadron member.
"Tara's extremely happy with her decision to join the Air Force," Chief Hickman said with a smile. "She saw what I did every day, but still wanted to go visit a recruiter - she didn't want to take my word for anything."
The chief said she welcomes her successor, Command Chief Master Sergeant Clifford Van Yahres, from the 440th Airlift Wing at Pope AFB, NC.
"You're in great hands with Chief VanYahres," Chief Hickman said. "And I'd still like to keep up with wing members' life and career progress too - the Air Force is my life, my family, always."