JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas – The First Command welcomed Chief Master Sgt. Erik Thompson as its new senior enlisted advisor to the commander and senior staff effective Aug. 1, 2020.
Thompson, who replaces Chief Master Sgt. Julie Gudgel as the command chief of Air Education and Training Command, is coming into the position after serving as the 19th Air Force command chief.
“I’m not sure ‘excited’ is a strong enough word to describe how I feel about the opportunity to serve as the Command Chief for Air Education and Training Command,” Thompson said. “This is the FIRST COMMAND. We are the first people Airmen are exposed to and we are charged with the awesome responsibility of taking America’s young men and women and turning them into professional, disciplined war fighters for the Air Force and Space Force.”
Growing up in Florida, Thompson was looking for a job with potential and growth opportunities, plus the chance to earn money for college. Several of his high school friends were in the Air Force and convinced him to join as well.
His career path specifically came about because of a family connection and love for helicopters.
“My uncle was a flight engineer in Special Ops during Vietnam and I wanted do that as my career field, but at the time you could not come into the Air Force directly as a flight engineer,” Thompson said. “To get there, you had to do a tour in aircraft maintenance first. I was fortunate enough to be able to choose helicopter maintenance and I truly enjoyed my time as a crew chief, but I knew I really wanted to fly!”
After his first reenlistment, Thompson was accepted to cross train into the flight engineer career field, spending four years in Air Mobility Command as an aircrew member on C-130E aircraft before ending up in Air Force Special Operations near the end of 2001, where he flew on the MC-130H Combat Talon II.
“I had the opportunity to fly with some incredible aviators, work with incredible users, and fly some really hard missions,” Thompson said. “I had great commanders, leaders, mentors, and teammates who invested in me to help me excel at my job. Most importantly, they showed me the value of being a good non-commissioned officer and senior non-commissioned officer.”
The idea of being a command chief didn’t enter the equation for Thompson until after he was selected for promotion to chief master sergeant, and assigned as the squadron superintendent for a large operations support squadron with 11 flights and Airmen from a multitude of Air Force specialty codes.
“We had every AFSC imaginable in the unit, and a really high tempo operational mission. The ability to devote time, energy, and effort into directly developing, mentoring, and assisting SNCOs, NCOs, and Airmen while being part of a command team with dynamic leaders and a critically important mission, really opened my eyes,” Thompson said. “I was fortunate to have some great commanders and command chiefs who showed me I could continue to do that on a larger scale, and I was fortunate to serve as the wing command chief at Cannon Air Force Base followed by 19th Air Force.”
Coming into the position, one of the priorities Thompson has his sights focused in on right away is valuing force generation.
“We have to ensure AETC is a command people want to come to, want to work hard at while they are here, and are recognized for that incredibly hard work recruiting, training, and educating exceptional Airmen,” Thompson said.
With a transparent leadership style, Thompson is ready to roll his sleeves up and dig in on all matters affecting the readiness, training, development, utilization, and resiliency of the command’s Airmen.
“We have great leaders across our command starting at the top with Lt. Gen. Webb, and we will continue working to make this command better than it was the day before,” Thompson said. “I’m a pretty open book. We have an important job to do and I want us to be the best we can while ensuring our Airmen and families experience the best quality of service we can provide.”
AETC includes Air Force Recruiting Service, 2nd and 19th Air Forces, and Air University. AETC operates more than 1,400 trainer, fighter and mobility aircraft, 25 wings, 11 bases and five geographically separated groups. The command’s approximately 60,000 active-duty, Reserve, Guard, civilian and contractor personnel train more than 293,000 total force Airmen, joint and international students per year annually, providing combat-ready Airmen to commanders across the Department of Defense.