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    Do Your Best And Help Other People: The Road To Chief



    Story by Tech. Sgt. Tommy Grimes 

    4th Combat Camera Squadron

    By Tech. Sgt. Thomas Grimes
    4th Combat Camera Squadron, 315th Airlift Wing

    Achieving the highest rank in the Air Force of Chief Master Sergeant requires a drive and determination to stay the course throughout whatever adversity one may encounter in their career. As most Airmen know, Chiefs are a wealth of information and experience. Such is the case with Chief Master Sgt. John Herrick, who was appointed as the Squadron Superintendent of the 4th Combat Camera Squadron, a Reserve Unit based at Joint Base Charleston, S.C., on October 1, 2020. His story is one that spans multiple duty stations, career fields, deployments and many trails which shaped him into the leader he is today. He has seen combat and death through the lens of his camera and through it all kept himself guided by the simplest of principles that were instilled in him as a Boy Scout: “Do your best and help other people.”

    Herrick comes from a family with a long legacy of military service stretching back as far as the Civil War where a relative fought in the Union Army. His Uncle, James W. Herrick Jr., was an A-1E Skyraider pilot who, along with his aircraft, went missing in Laos in 1969 during the Vietnam war. Several of his uncles, his father, brother and wife are also all veterans. So perhaps it is not surprising that at the age of 17 Herrick found himself enlisting in the Air Force. He remembers himself in 1994 not quite being ready for college and having a desire to see the world beyond his home state of Minnesota.

    As an Active Duty Airman, Herrick’s first career field was Non-Destructive Inspection. In 1998 he switched over to the Air Force Reserve. It was as a Reserve Citizen Airman that he found a what he calls “the Pentagon’s best kept secret,” a career which he believes to truly be a “Choose Your Own Adventure.” He returned back to Minnesota and first cross-trained to become Communications Computer Systems Operator and again in 2004 into the career field where he found his calling. Herrick became a Still Photographer. It was in this role that he made a reputation for excellence as a combat-ready Airman that would propel him to the heights he’s achieved today.

    In 2006, his first opportunity presented itself. He was given a three week assignment at Dover Air Force Base, DE, where his two man team documented 25 autopsies. It was solemn and important work and his first exposure to death. The sounds and smells still stick with him. While there Herrick discovered that he really liked forensic photography. The following year he accepted a contractor position in Afghanistan where he served as a forensic photographer in the Combined Explosives Exploitation Cell or “CEXC Lab.” He ended up photographing 724 cases for the FBI, culminating in recognition by then-Director Robert Mueller.  

    In 2007, upon the completion of his 7-month tour, Herrick found himself in the Inactive Ready Reserve with the end of his enlistment fast approaching. He recalled an article he read in Citizen Airman Magazine that profiled the role of a Combat Cameraman with the 4th Combat Camera Squadron. Thrilled to learn of a new opportunity in his current career field, Herrick knew this would be a perfect fit for him. He quickly transferred into the squadron, which at the time was assigned to the 452nd Airlift Wing at March Air Reserve Base, Calif.

    From 2009 to 2010 he deployed with Tier 1 and 2 Special Operations Forces. He describes this deployment as the “Super-Bowl” of his career. During his tour he found himself challenged as never before as he worked in an environment that had him performing his job in an intense and elevated way. He photographed several nighttime raids and marveled at the level of leadership and decision making skills that the Special Operators possessed. Herrick fondly recalls that he had the, “blessing of knowing while you are there that no subsequent job, tour or assignment will likely ever be more satisfying. That's hard to beat. I am very fortunate to have made it home, as not all there did.”

    Throughout his time at the 4th, Herrick established himself as one of the most trusted members of the squadron. He filled many roles while in California, including Flight Superintendent and interim First Sergeant. But it all came to an unexpected halt in 2014 when it was announce that the 4th would be inactivating. All of its Airmen were suddenly thrown a curveball and now needed to go their separate ways. Scattered to the wind, this tight-knit family had to find new jobs with other units. Herrick was able to find a new 3 year AGR opportunity as an Air Force Reserve Recruiter in Arizona.

    His new role did not come without sacrifice. Herrick would need to take off a stripe to accept the new position. With his eyes firmly fixed on making the best decision for himself, his young family, the Air Force and his career, he agreed. After his tour ended he was preparing to cross train again into a new career field when fate again intervened.

    Herrick received a phone call from Lt. Col. Hamilton Underwood, the former Commander of 4CTCS, informing him that the squadron would be reactivating at Joint Base Charleston, S.C. They would be co-located with their active duty counterpart, the 1st Combat Camera Squadron. Even better, he told Herrick there was a place for him there if he wanted it. After consulting with his current leadership, Herrick heeded their advice, “(You’re) the cameraman. That’s where your passion is. You've got to follow it.” So he did.

    Upon his return to the 4th, Herrick was quickly promoted to the rank Senior Master Sergeant and given significant leadership responsibilities. When asked what makes this squadron special he frankly explains, “I’m a sucker for history, so that appeals to me.” True, 4CTCS traces its history back to World War II. But beyond that Herrick confessed, “We’re like family, almost literal family.” Now that he is back, he could never envision himself anywhere else.

    When the position of Chief became available Lt. Col. Bryan Lewis, Commander of 4CTCS, had an important decision to make. Promoting someone to the highest enlisted rank, is not a something he took lightly. “Simply put, the rank of Chief Master Sergeant is an amazing accomplishment – one that comes with much hard work, dedication, and responsibility. For me personally I respect it more than any other given what our enlisted corps must accomplish to get there,” he explained.

    “John Herrick was the right choice because he personifies our core values. He especially demonstrates great humility,” Lt. Col. Lewis explained, referencing Herrick’s willingness to take off a stripe when needed. “People only know this about him if someone else tells them!” he continued.

    Recalling how he was informed of his promotion, Herrick received a phone call from Lt. Col. Lewis to learn about his decision. Upon hearing the happy news he was surprised to hear the voices of both his wife and son on the phone, listening in to the conversation. The moment will forever be etched in his memory.

    Airmen who have served under his leadership also are happy to have him as their new Chief. Tech. Sgt. Amy Picard worked with Herrick during the 4th’s time at March ARB and credits him with keeping her in the squadron. When she was coming off of Active Duty she found herself having difficulty adjusting to the Air Force Reserve. She even contemplated not reenlisting.

    “He has a keen since of when things are off with someone and he pulled me aside to talk it out. Even if the conversation is tough, I can always be brutally honest and speak my truth without fear of him judging, getting upset, and without recourse. He listened,” Tech. Sgt. Picard recalled. Herrick responded to her without skipping a beat, “Well, you make valid points. You could get out, and no one you blame you. Or, you could stay in and be the change you want for others who come after you. You get to decide.”

    Herrick’s vast career has taught him the value of resilience. He has become confident as a leader in relating to those who have deployed and experienced combat first hand. Reflecting upon his Air Force Reserve journey he recounts, “Volunteering has allowed me to travel overseas within days of 9/11, visit the south of France and Monaco, drive around Turkey, swim in the Mediterranean, serve in Qatar, explore Vietnam, pursue my passion as a forensic photographer, witness a Space Shuttle launch, be tested in combat and bring the fight directly to the enemy. To start and provide for my family and travel to nearly every state in the Union. All because I chose to!”

    Looking forward to the way he hopes to lead, Herrick is committed to leading by example. When asked about the values that guided him along his journey he reached into his pocket and presented a coin he had received as a child in Boy Scouts. On it is a simple mantra that reads, “Do your best and help other people.”

    “I think it’s really that simple,” he shared. While the words themselves may be simple, its Chief Master Sergeant Herrick’s history of truly living up to them that makes his reputation precede him. His achievement of reaching the highest enlisted rank is made all the more remarkable by the kindness and integrity that led him there.

    JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, SC October 3, 2020.



    Date Taken: 10.03.2020
    Date Posted: 02.20.2021 18:34
    Story ID: 389481
    Location: JB CHARLESTON, SC, US

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