Mission first, people always

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Monique Randolph
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing
Experience counts for alot in both the military and civilian workforce, and no one knows this better than the new director of the 97th Maintenance Directorate, T.O. Hilley. As a military aircraft maintainer, Mr. Hilley achieved the rank of chief master sergeant, and he now holds the highest civilian position on base.
With 42 years of aircraft maintenance experience under his belt, Mr. Hilley could retire at any time. However, he said he still has a legacy to fulfill. 

"If I leave a legacy of anything, I want to leave a legacy of civilian maintenance here at Altus Air Force Base," he said. "First of all, I want to rewin the rebid." 

Although the civilian maintenance directorate has been a part of the 97th Air Mobility Wing for over 10 years, in 2008, the directorate will have to rebid their contract to remain a part of the wing. 

The directorate will have to compete against other civilian contract companies to continue providing aircraft maintenance support for the base. 

"I want to do my part to ensure our future here at Altus Air Force Base," the director said. "We have some really good people here; some of the best I've worked with in my entire career. 

"They've moved here, they've invested in this community, and they've invested in this base. I want to do everything in my power to keep them here." 

More than 40 percent of the directorate's employees are retired military, and more than 90 percent are prior military, Mr. Hilley said. 

"When the maintenance directorate first began, we had 22 retired chief master sergeants, over 150 retired senior NCOs, a few retired officers and a lot of career civil servants. And they're all after the same thing: to do the best job they can do, and be of the most value to the government. That's what we're all after.
"The experience base we have here at Altus is unmatched anywhere else in the Air Force," he said. "We know what the wing mission dictates. We have a military foundation. We are you (the military). We understand rank, deployments and everything else military members go through. We've done it ourselves." 

Mr. Hilley, himself, retired from the Air Force in 1989 after more than 25 years on active duty. 

"I wasn't ready to retire, but I had a medical condition that prevented me from staying," he said. "So, I did the next best thing and worked in aircraft maintenance as a civilian. I loved doing what I was doing." 

Mr. Hilley said he attributes his success in the military to superb mentoring.
"I could never replace the experience I've received watching super leaders work," he said. "I am a product of mentorship. I worked with some really great people; senior enlisted and officers. They all had three traits in common: honesty, great work ethic and patriotism. I've been very lucky to have known them all." 

From 1996 to the present, Mr. Hilley has worked his way from airlift flight chief to director of maintenance. 

His advice: "Dream big and go for it! Help other people realize their goals and the return will be great. Pray and get involved in your church and commit to helping less fortunate people. Sell yourself; practice doing interviews and work hard at being honest. Show them that you are the best value and don't stop after being hired." 

As for military members: "Work really hard while you're in. Many people get to a certain point and just float along. Give it your best shot." 

"I think some people think I was born behind this desk," Mr. Hilley said. "I spent many, many years on the flight line. You get that in your blood and it's hard to get it out. I ruined a white shirt last week looking at a gear problem; I guess I'm still a mechanic at heart."