Hill missile maintenance chief honored

  • Published
  • By Mary Lou Gorny
  • Hilltop Times Editor
Just four months shy of 30 years ago, a young man took up the Air Force on its pledge to pay for his education, when he signed up as an Airman and went to tech school at Chanute, Air Force Base.

Recalling that time, Chief Master Sgt. Mark Salyards, said he chose missile maintenance as his career field when he could not pass the color distinguishing test for aircraft maintenance. "It actually ended up the better thing out of the two, for my family, because I was able to stay at certain places for longer periods of time," he said.

Given how close he is to retirement, the chief master sergeant is taking the time to look back and he was offered the opportunity for a special honor. Along with his wife, Salyards visited his home state of Illinois on Veterans Day, and attended a football game at the University of Illinois. Here, he was honored in pregame ceremonies for his military service. His retirement flag was flown over Memorial Field during the game between U of I and the University of Minnesota. Salyards said this flag has been flown over other sites where he has served, including Hill Air Force Base.

"I grew up in a farming community which was a great place to grow up but I wanted to do something different," Salyards said. "The Air Force was an avenue to get an education and it always interested me because Chanute was close to where I lived. It was about 15 miles from there and I was always intrigued by the activities that were going on at the base."

The values he grew up with in the Midwest found reinforcement in the Air Force "Core Values" and the quiet Airman from Gibson City grew to become someone who liked to share information with others and speak at length to any size crowd.

"It really is the people and the mission that motivated me, to be able to work with good people who have the same mission set, who want to be able to accomplish the same tasks and have the same goals in mind," he said.

The chief attained his bachelor's degree in military management and program acquisition and said a lot of that credit goes to his family. He sometimes had to put his education on brief hiatus because his hours were long. His first priority, however, was his family. "I couldn't have done it without them," he said.

His two sons followed him into the Air Force. One serves at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and the other is at Minot AFB in North Dakota.

"I do recommend the Air Force for family and friends," the chief master sergeant explained. However, if a potential applicant does not exhibit the characteristics that he thinks would make them a good fit for the Air Force he is not shy to say so. "I will tell them I don't think it's a good thing for you. We are a smaller Air Force and we don't need bodies, we need the right bodies."

Salyards puts great store in those core values. "Integrity," "Service Before Self," "Excellence" ... "When people don't have those values it stands out," he said.

When asked what kind of advice he would give to a new young Airman, he replied, "To have confidence in your abilities and take advantage of your opportunity -- if they believe in themselves and work hard, they will make it."

Although you don't always hear and see much about the missile maintenance field in the Air Force, Salyards has a way of putting the attention thing into perspective.

"I tell my guys we may not be the quarterback on the team, but we're like the field goal kicker," he said when asked about his career choice. "We may not get a lot of attention like the quarterback, but when it comes time for a field goal, it'd be pretty important that we make it every time."

Salyards praised the ability of the men who came up with the weapon system to defend the United States, back in the '60s. "To date it's still the most powerful and accurate weapon system in the world. It's pretty amazing to me that the engineers and scientists in that time before computers, using slide rules, had the capability and the ability to manufacture and develop the weapon system we're using today," he said.

"Obviously we have upgraded it throughout the years, but it is amazing that this weapon system was only supposed to be here about 10 years and today we're still using it," he said of the Minuteman missile system.

In looking ahead at the challenges the Air Force faces, Salyards is excited about what the service has to offer its young people and what the young people have to offer the service.

"The quality of the young people coming in, technology-wise, is so far ahead of when I came into the Air Force. We need to channel their multitasking abilities. Our young Airmen have the capabilities, we've just got to find a means to provide them the equipment and tools that they need to execute the mission. The capabilities of the young Airmen are great, it's just what can we do to provide them what they need to do the job?" he said as he pondered the future financial challenges faced by the military services.

With four months and 28 days left in his career, Salyards is retiring from the Air Force but looks forward to serving in other ways. He is not content to just retire. With family in Illinois and his wife's teaching career in Utah, he wants to be able to support their travels back and forth and continue his career either in the private sector or as a civilian federal worker. He knows he is venturing outside into the unknown, and he is considering it as someone who fully appreciates the Wingman culture and core values of the Air Force. He intends to always learn something from the people he meets. It is certain he will bring the balance the Air Force has given him to any new challenge ahead.

Salyards currently serves as the 309th Missile Maintenance Group superintendent/technical advisor and chief enlisted manager to the Ogden Air Logistics Complex.