Overcoming the odds: 30 years of active duty Special Tactics service

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Ryan Conroy
  • 24th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
One percent of the U.S. population is eligible for military service and voluntarily enlists in the armed forces.

Out of that, one percent of enlisted Air Force personnel achieve the rank of chief master sergeant.

Chief Master Sgt. Sean T. Gleffe has accomplished both, retiring after 30 years of active duty service as a combat controller here July 15.

“If you do the math, statistically speaking, you have a better chance of winning the lottery than completing a 30-year career as a chief [master sergeant] in combat control,” said Col. Michael Martin, commander of the 24th Special Operations Wing.

During his last assignment, Gleffe served as the combat control functional manager for Air Force Special Operations Command and the interim command chief at 24 SOW. He managed combat control manpower and resources to support global contingencies and peacetime operations.

“Thirty years is a long time, and it’s passed in the blink of an eye,” said Gleffe. “I have absolutely no regrets; I’ve had a blessed and fulfilling career. If I was 18 years old again, I’d do it all again and wouldn’t change a thing.”

Chief Gleffe grew up at Woodbridge AFB, Suffolk, England, as an Air Force dependent and entered the Air Force in September 1986 at 17 years old, which required a signature from his mother. Throughout his Special Tactics career, Gleffe was certified a static line jump master, military freefall jump master and military dive supervisor.

Gleffe deployed numerous times in support of Operations ENDURING and IRAQI FREEDOM and has participated in joint operations with Army, Navy and coalition special operations forces.

“Sean’s career has been nothing but tactical-level operations, taking the fight to the enemy and being an absolute quiet professional,” said Martin. “Thirty years of wear and tear on the body, 30 years of making split-second decisions on the battlefield and in training. You can’t quantify what his service means to the nation.”

As the retirement ceremony concluded, Gleffe admitted leaving the Air Force would not be easy.

“It’s hard to accept that it’s time to unplug from all of this,” said Gleffe. “I love this community, and I’m going to miss it a lot. I’m going to miss the mindset of everyone in this command: their drive to get the mission done, their attitude that failure is not an option…

“I’ll miss looking an Airman in the eye and telling them they have to go downrange and having them turn around and say, ‘when do you need me to go?’ added Gleffe. “I’ll miss working with the Airmen who were close to death on several occasions’ on one deployment, then volunteering to deploy again the very next cycle,”

As Gleffe reflected on the highlights of his career, he took time to recognize the foundation of his accomplishments.

“I’d be remiss to think I got here on my own, there is no one who could get here on their own,” said Gleffe. “Commanders, leaders, supervisors all had a hand in raising me, and my family was my foundation throughout my career.”

The military is a family business for Gleffe, who is married with a son, a daughter and a step-daughter. His brother is a master sergeant and his sister is a technical sergeant in the Air Force.

As one Gleffe retires, another is picking up the torch. Gleffe’s son enlisted in the U.S. Army as an intelligence specialist this year.

“I’m told that the Gleffes have served in the military dating back to the Civil War,” said Gleffe. “As a father, I am worried for him because the world is upside down and inside out. But I also have tremendous pride for him as a warrior.”

While Martin conceded his regrets of seeing Gleffe leave the service, he affirmed Gleffe’s dedication to his family.

“We are saddened to see him leave, but we are happy he can now spend time with his family,” said Martin. “He has touched generations of warriors, and I can only hope to emulate his actions. We wish you the best in the future.”

Gleffe signed off from his 30-year career to resounding applause from an audience of 200 friends and family. His retirement culminates in nine assignments, 6 changes of station, seven promotions and numerous accolades and decorations to include the Bronze Star Medal with Valor awarded three times.

“It’s been my honor, I will miss all of you. I am now mission complete,” said Gleffe.