Retirement brings reflections on service, people

  • Published
  • By Marisa Alia-Novobilski
  • Air Force Materiel Command

A billboard, a newborn and imminent unemployment set the stage for the start of a stellar 30-year Air Force career for the Air Force Materiel Command’s senior enlisted leader, who will hang up his uniform and retire from active service, Oct. 1.

“I still remember driving down the highway and seeing a billboard that said, ‘Aim High,’” said Chief Master Sgt. Stanley C. Cadell, AFMC Command Chief. “It started a conversation with my brother-in-law who was in the vehicle with me…and by the end of the conversation, we were in the recruiter’s office, and I joined the Air Force.”

Cadell, newly married with his first child, had just received notice that the company he worked for was going out of business, and he needed a way to support his family. So he joined the service, intending to serve for a few years. 

“As an individual who barely passed high school and from a pretty rough neighborhood…the environment (I grew up in) was not set up to be conducive for any type of constructive future,” said Cadell. “The Air Force challenged me…and everyday became a chance to learn something new.”

During his first assignment, a “tough supervisor” challenged Cadell to consider his future and the possibility of higher education. This set the stage for a career of continuous learning and growth, with Cadell earning his associate, bachelor and master’s degrees, all while continuing to serve across the globe.

“Staff Sergeant Greg Vernon was my very first supervisor in the Air Force, and he was tough. But, I credit him for a lot of the success I have had in my career. He pushed me harder than I thought I could go at the time, and he also put in a desire to learn more, to want to know more,” said Cadell. “He instilled in me how important education is to making yourself better but also how important it is for our Air Force future.”

As Cadell continued to grow and pursue “more,” he amassed 24 different assignments in 15 different locations, including four overseas deployments. While each one had its own unique challenges and opportunities, what he remembers most about his career journey is not the jobs or the locations, but the people he’s met, learned from and helped along the way.

“When I think about different significant milestones…it's all about the teams I’ve been honored to be a part of, whether that's some of the deployed teams that I was with, or some of the assignments while serving overseas. It's those people -- those friends that you get to know -- they're family members,” he said.

Though Cadell spent a large part of his early career working ‘hands-on’ in the maintenance career field, it’s when he became a first sergeant in 2005 that he came to understand the importance of taking care of people and how leaders can make a difference for the future of the service. It was this point that he came to see the ‘why’ behind the efforts of those in the past who pushed him hard to succeed.

Those individuals that we invested and continue to invest in are the individuals that are going to continue to serve our nation and make sure that our nation is safe and secure for the future.
Chief Master Sgt. Stanley C. Cadell

“When I first became a first sergeant, a master sergeant sat down with me and walked me through what it really meant to be a first sergeant--the importance of that job and focusing on and investing in people. He said, ‘Someday you're going to take the uniform off, and these individuals are going to continue to serve. All that you put into them now-- all that you invest in them right now-- is going to pay off dividends in the future.’  Now, as I start wrapping up a 30-year career, I see the truth. Those individuals that we invested and continue to invest in are the individuals that are going to continue to serve our nation and make sure that our nation is safe and secure for the future,” said Cadell.

For the past three years, Cadell has served as the senior advisor for all matters affecting the readiness, training and professional development for the more than 24,000 enlisted personnel and at AFMC. It’s a job that required him to take another step back to learn more-- even after 30 years of service-- and it gave him a great appreciation for the diversity of the people, the complexity of the command missions and the impact of AFMC on the work across the entire enterprise.

“When I arrived here, one thing I didn't understand and I did not have as much of appreciation for, is what our non-uniform Airmen bring to the fight. The dedication that that those individuals have to the mission and to make sure that they get it ‘right’ around our Air Force is impressive. They love this country. They love our Air Force, and they go to work each and every day to make sure that this nation stays safe and secure,” said Cadell. 

As he approaches his final days of service, Cadell says he has thought about how the service has changed and things that have stayed consistent over the years. His conclusion:  the missions may have evolved and the methods in which they’re done are different, but at the end of the day, it’s the people who serve that make all the difference.

“When I first came into the Air Force, we didn't have computers… so obviously we've come a long way since then,” said Cadell. “When I look at where we're at now, a lot of great technology has helped us to be able to do our jobs uh much easier. Sometimes I think we need to take a take a step back and realize that we're the world's greatest Air Force, and it's because of people that have built it over these years.”

As for parting advice for those who continue to serve, Cadell offers just a few simple words.

“Bloom where you’re planted. Be good in your job, and enjoy the journey. If you're willing to take a step back, and if you're willing to open your aperture and learn something, you'll find a lot of value in whatever you do.”

Cadell is looking forward to spending some down time with his family after he hangs up his uniform on Oct. 1, but he also feels that he is not done serving yet.

 “I'm going to look for a way to continue to give back. Our Air Force has given our family so much. We're going to continue to figure out a way that we can still continue to serve and give back to Airmen and to our military,” said Cadell.

Cadell’s retirement ceremony will be livestreamed on the Air Force Materiel Command Facebook page on Oct. 1, 2021, starting at 3 p.m. ET at