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Enlisted rank doesn't halt chief from taking the lead

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- A career that now spans over 24 years, Chief Master Sgt. Joseph Stratil, 460th Operations Group chief enlisted manager, has used his enthusiasm for the military and the people he serves with to excel at every position he has held.

From arming aircraft early in his career to designing programs that better integrate space capabilities with ground, sea and air assets, Stratil has not allowed rank, or the fact that he is enlisted, to hold him back from taking the wheel and exceeding expectations.

Stratil comes from a family that understands the importance of service. Two of his uncles served in the military during World War II and another during the Korean War. His father was a C-130 Hercules crew chief in the Air Force during Vietnam, so it wasn't a surprise that Stratil looked towards the military early in life. 

He began his career as an aircraft armament systems troop and did two deployments as an Airman. After his second deployment, he was selected to go up to weapons standardization, a position usually filled by a non-commissioned officer.

"It was the first time in 15 years that they had done that," Stratil said. "I got put on a weapons crew and began training and evaluating all the people who were loading."

He loved working with munitions, but came to the realization early in his career that he would not be able to continue that type of work into his 40's.

Stratil cross trained into space operations after his first enlistment and began his first assignment at Falcon Air Force Base, Colorado, now Schriever AFB, in the 11th Space Warning Squadron, the Air Force's first theatre missile warning unit.

"I spent about five years there and did just about everything you can do in space," Stratil said. "I was a trainer, an evaluator, crew chief, data systems operator and ran the theatre exercises and tests."

As a Staff Sergeant, Stratil was given the responsibility by then Lt. Col Suzanne Vautrinot, 11 SWS commander, of leading the theatre exercises and tests by himself without any officer in charge.  

"I would go to all the planning meetings and had equal say with all the different officers that were in charge of the other parts of the triad," Stratil explained. "She had an immense amount of trust in me and I was not about to fail her."

While in this position, he took part in the planning of a new system of missile detection that was able to warn troops down range faster than any system had before.
"I helped build a shared early warning net," Stratil said. "When things are detected, they alert command centers down range that something is coming their way which begins the process of warning troops."

Stratil considers his position while at 11 SWS as a pivotal moment that set the tone for the rest of his career.

He would have another opportunity to make a big impact during his stay at Vandenberg AFB, California, in the Joint Space Operations Center.

"I was charged with building a training and standardization/evaluation program for that entity, which is operational level command and control for everything we do in space," Stratil said.

Stratil was given complete control to build a training program by then Col. Stephen Whiting, 614th Air and Space Operations Center director. It would be the first time in seven years that a new program was developed.

"I took off on this quest to build a master training plan for 13 positions to include all the different Air and Space Operations Center divisions including combat operations," Stratil explained.

He also built a training plan that took several different divisions used to conduct missions and tied them together with the capabilities of space. If an operation was going to take place, a space asset would be assigned to help increase the capabilities of the actors involved.

"It was combining all the tasks that were necessary to support theatres, all the tasks that were necessary for strategy, what combat plans had to do to build space tasking orders and then what combat operations had to do with all the day to day management of the sensors, the Air Force and the space units," Stratil said. "I had to harness it all together into one big training plan." 

With the establishment of the training program, it was the first such program in the AOC's history.

"It was very liberating for me because it was a huge challenge," Strail said. "The other part was the trust of my leadership. I wasn't going to let them down. I believe there are very few jobs in the Air Force that enlisted cannot do."

After his time working within JSPOC, Stratil got his first superintendent job with 12 SWS stationed at Thule Air Force Base, Qaasuitsup, Greenland .
While at Thule AFB, Stratil says although he was "battletested" by the remoteness of the location as well as the large amount of responsibilities he had on his plate, he enjoyed the experience. 

"Hands down, one of the highlights of my career," Stratil said. "Definitely one of the assignments that helped build me the most and one of the most rewarding assignments because of the tight-knit nature." 

Thule AFB was the first time Stratil had an opportunity to lead a unit. He put in for the assignment because he saw it as a proving ground.

"I heard it was one of the toughest assignments to go to and you either succeeded or failed," Stratil said. "It was opportunity for me to prove another part of my capability which was the leadership of people."

From Thule AFB, Stratil went to the Senior Non-Commissioned Officer academy to teach before being assigned back to space.

Stratil has not stopped creating new programs that advance the Air Force mission. He has been working on a resource and mentorship program for the 460th OG that he and the former OG commander, Col. Michael Jackson, thought up that would better equip and prepare incoming Airmen and officers for success.

"It's definitely something I am going to complete before I leave Buckley AFB," Strail said. "The first formalized professional development cadre and syllabize. Our group with have mandated subjects that all Airmen will get along with Non Commissioned Officers."

The program is being developed by Stratil to overlook the career assistance advisor course, but to add to what is already taught.

"He's been working hard to ensure the Airmen of the 460th SW have the tools they need to develop professionally and personally, said Col. Bob Reeves, 460th Operations Group commander. It's a mentorship program meant to reach the folks who are interested in progressing in the Air Force. We have a very young force in the OG. While they are technically competent because they just finished training, we want to continually grow them professionally. Make them professional officers and enlisted leaders in the OG and this is how we try and reach them early on."

Looking back, Stratil notes two things allowed him to get where he is today.

"Effort and caring," Stratil said. "I'm not afraid to give effort. How can you expect your folks to put in effort if you're not going to model that yourself?"
Stratil enjoys working in the Operations Group at Buckley AFB. His nine years of experience within space has given him depth of insight into the mission.

"He has been a huge asset," Reeves said. "He's allowed us to figure out how to best deploy our forces and how to realign and reconfigure our current operations to support the future and emerging operations of the 460th SW."

However, although Stratil enjoys working on the Air Force's mission in space, what he looks forward to the most is the Airmen he gets to work with every day.

"It's easy for me to keep motivation in the Air Force because all I need to do is drive through the gate, Stratil said. "Once I see that first defender, that first Airman, that's why I'm still here and that's who I am doing this job for."

As Stratil reflects on his long accomplished career, there is one thing he has realized that he wants others to understand.

"The greatest contribution anyone can give in the Air Force is to prepare the Airmen coming in behind you, not just to be as good as you are, but to truly be better than you are," Stratil said. "I love working with Airmen and I want to make them a better generation than we were. That is what keeps me going every day."