ABRAHAM LINCOLN CAPITAL AIRPORT, IL --
In 1984, a teenage girl from San Bernardino, California, enlisted into the World’s greatest Air Force. She joined for several reasons, but her primary motivation was to follow in her father’s footsteps and join the United States military. She was the first woman in her military-rich family to enlist. July 16, 2022, that same woman retired after 38 years of service as part of the one percent of the enlisted force that holds the rank of chief master sergeant.
Chief Master Sgt. Teresa Ray retired from the position of Senior Enlisted Leader of the Force Support Squadron at the 183d Wing, Springfield, Illinois.
When asked if she could sum up her military experience in one word or phrase, Ray answered, “I’d do it all over again.” She paused, gathering her thoughts, and continued, “Yes, I would do it all over again. We, the military, are needed. We play an important role in the big picture.”
Ray joined the Active Duty Air Force in March 1984 and was stationed at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. She was stationed there for seven years and served as an Administrative Assistant to the Commander of Scott AFB.
“When I came in, I was an E1, so no stripes. Being able to get my first stripe was very memorable for me,” Ray recalled. “I liked being an Airman because I had no responsibilities. I just didn't know any better. Honestly, it’s almost like being a child and growing up, you’re a baby, you're just getting started.”
Ray ended her stint with the Active Duty Air Force in November 1991 at the rank of senior airman. She joined the Air Force Reserves out of Scott Air Force Base in December 1991 and continued as a Reservist for 28 years. She held the job positions of Administrative Assistant to the Wing Commander, Personnel Readiness Function, Noncommissioned Officer in Charge of Personnel Systems, Military Personnel Flight Superintendent and Superintendent for the Force Support Squadron.
Ray deployed four times as a Reservist. She deployed to Qatar in 2006, Iraq in 2011, Kuwait in 2012 and Africa in 2018. She worked her way through the ranks from senior airman to senior master sergeant in the Reserves. Ray was assigned to the 932d Airlift Wing’s Force Support Squadron before joining the Air National Guard at the 183d Wing in July 2019 as a chief master sergeant.
“When Chief Ray took the job as the FSS Superintendent, we saw right away that her years of Air Force Reserve experience would help us improve our processes,” 183d Mission Support Group Commander Col. Shawn Green said. “She would compare and contrast her experiences with AFRES, which were similar in some cases and different in others. There were enough similarities that she was able to rapidly adapt to the Air National Guard instructions.”
Ray finished out the last three years of her military career with the National Guard. She used her previous 35 years of experience to be there for her Airmen at the 183d Wing.
When asked what advice she would give someone looking to be a chief master sergeant, Ray stated, “Look to see what your goals are, see what you're going to do to get there, but also ensure that you're including the people, like those around you, in that goal.”
Ray prefers to lead with a firm but kind leadership style, employing the Air Force’s core values in her professional approach to guiding troops. She was adamant that, “We don’t get here alone. I had some great supervisors. I've had supervisors that were maybe not so great that taught me to do things differently. Like, okay, I won't do that, I’ll learn from both.”
Leading by example and instilling a sense of pride in the Airmen she led was of the utmost importance to Ray. She strived to be there for any Airman who may need her, not just the troops in the Force Support Squadron.
“Chief Ray always had a positive, can-do attitude,” Green remarked. “She kept a strong work-life balance and enjoyed taking care of her real family and her work family.”
Ray credits her husband, Ellis, as being her biggest supporter. She insists she could not have gotten to where she is in her career without the support of him and their blended family of seven children.
“I didn't get here alone,” Ray said, smiling. “That's how I look at it. It took my family, it took my co-workers. When I got promoted to chief master sergeant, a lot of the people I worked with before showed up. The room was filled with half of the people that were in my squadron before. I was just humbled and touched to be in the position to put on chief, but to also know the effect I had on others and for them to be there.”
Chief Ray’s retirement celebration mirrored her promotion to chief master sergeant. It was filled with co-workers, friends and family celebrating her 38-year Air Force career.