By Barney Blakeney
Although Black History Month recently ended, the perpetuation of Black History is constant. A prime example of that are the senior leaders at Joint Base Charleston’s Air Base. The top two leaders for the first time in Air Base’s history are African Americans. The 628th Air Base Wing is part of Charleston’s Air Base, which also includes the 437th Airlift Wing and 315th Airlift Wing. Joint Base Charleston encompasses four installations, including Charleston AFB and Naval Weapons Station Charleston. Col. Terrence A. Adams is commander of the 628th Air Base Wing and Joint Base Charleston. Chief Master Sergeant Michael Cole is the Command Chief Master Sergeant of the 628th Air Base Wing.
Adams, a native of Tuskegee, Ala., said his ethnicity relative to his command is a bigger deal than he’d make of it, but he understands that the role is more about the perception of others – how others may see him and be inspired. And he’s quick to offer himself in efforts to promote such inspiration. He recently returned from a speaking engagement in Alabama. Cole, who hails from Maryland, also feels the leadership dynamic at the base is inspirational and helps younger minority personnel realize that ethnicity may be less of a concern than ability.
For the two leaders, ability is where the rubber meets the road. Adams served in the Army, both active duty and reserve, totaling five years. He entered the Air Force through the Reserve Officer Training Corps after graduating from Auburn University with a degree in Computer Information Systems. In 1997 he earned a Masters of Business Administration from Troy State University. He commanded six times at the squadron and group levels and has held a variety of positions at squadron, group, wing, major command, air staff and joint staff levels.
Cole’s resume also is impressive. He is the principal advisor to the commander on all matters of morale, welfare, readiness, professional development, and operational utilization of the enlisted force. In addition to earning in 2016 a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Resource Management from Park University, he has completed training which includes; a 2006 Associate Degree in Aircraft Maintenance Technology from the Community College of the Air Force and in 2016 the Air Force Command Chief Training Course.
Cole entered the Air Force as an Aircraft Maintenance Apprentice in May of 1991. He has held several positions in the aircraft maintenance career field in addition to serving as a First Sergeant. Prior to assuming his current position, he served as the Command Chief Master Sergeant, 15th Wing, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.
The officers’ experience and expertise qualify them for the task they face. Joint Base Charleston is host to over 60 Department Of Defense and federal agencies. The wing provides installation support to a total force of over 90,000 airmen, sailors, soldiers, marines, coast guardsmen, civilians, dependents and retirees.
In addition, the wing provides mission-ready expeditionary airmen to combatant commanders in support of joint and combined operations worldwide. As wing commander Adams is responsible for $7.5 billion in base property and capital assets and controls an annual budget exceeding $172 million. In comparison, the scope of Charleston Air Force Base in 2008 consisted of: 7,509 active duty and Air Reserve Component military and civilian personnel which include approximately 3,964 active duty, 2,524 reservists, 1,021 civilians and about 18,000 military retirees.
The leaders say their military experience hasn’t exempted them from the reality of being Black in America, but it offers more possibilities where the processes are less biased – less at the enlisted level than among the executive command level, Adams concedes. Whether civilian or military, Adams said overcoming those biases rests on having courageous conversations. As Joint Base Charleston commander, he’s committed to having those conversations.