Combat control chief comes full circle

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Ryan Conroy
  • 24th Special Operations Wing

The combat control functional manager for the Air Force --the Airman who shaped combat controllers’ futures-- retired Aug. 5, at the Combat Control Schoolhouse here.

Chief Master Sgt. Marshall Farris joined the Air Force Sept. 5, 1986, an 18-year-old patriot with ambitions to become an air traffic controller.
Going into Basic Military Training, he lacked a guaranteed job in the Air Force and was riddled with uncertainty until he found his home in the Special Tactics community as a combat controller. Being a CCT allowed him not only to control air traffic, but jump out of planes -- a "win, win" as he called it.

Thirty years of service later, Farris has come full circle -- retiring at the schoolhouse he originally helped design and lead as the commandant and chief for several years.

"There is no better place to retire than the house Marshall built," said Col. Michael Martin, commander of the 24th Special Operations Wing and presiding officer of the ceremony. "This is a special time, a special place and an emotional event considering this is the fourth Special Tactics chief with thirty years of experience that retired in the past few months...that's a lot of experience we're losing."

Farris’s experience is concreted into U.S. military history: He was the team lead for the first ground unit in combat operations after 9/11 during a reconnaissance mission, and led the first military free fall combat jump since the Vietnam War. He also infiltrated Afghanistan by means of a static-line combat jump.  

"My goal coming in was to complete four years of service, see a little bit of the world and gain some experience,” said Farris. “I had absolutely no idea I would put in thirty years. It's been an amazing experience -- the longer I served, the more [combat control] seemed like it was the perfect fit for me."

To put Farris' accomplishments into perspective, he deployed 12 times and participated in 33 joint-partner missions in support of Special Tactics operations, including Operations DENY FLIGHT, DESERT SHIELD, DESERT STORM, PROVIDE COMFORT, PROVIDE PROMISE, ENDURING FREEDOM, IRAQI FREEDOM and several other classified operations.

"His entire career, Marshall has never said ‘no’," said Martin. "We've asked him to do a lot and spend a lot of time away from home, and put his life on the line many times in training and in combat."

Although Farris is leaving active duty, his legacy will remain due to his dedication to the next line of Special Tactics warriors, from the CCT pipeline at the schoolhouse, to operational squadrons, to the Pentagon. Because of his efforts, the career field is close to 100 percent manning for the first time in combat control history.

"For the last six years, Farris has been the vanguard of the institutional efforts that we are reaping the benefits of today," said Martin.

As the combat control functional manager, Farris was responsible for the leadership and training of more than 600 combat control Airmen -- managing force structure, manning programs and recruiting to ensure combat control forces were available to do any mission, anywhere.

"The most rewarding thing for me is seeing the students and controllers --who came through when I was leading them-- grow and mature into operators getting out and doing awesome things in service to their country today," said Farris.

Farris plans to spend his retirement closer to his wife and three children, who he says were instrumental to his success in the Air Force.

"Now's my time to give back to my family who have given so much to me," said Farris. "I want to repay all of the sacrifice and energy that my wife and family have given on my behalf to let me have the opportunities that I have. I certainly wouldn't be here without their support."