Chief Master Sgt. Patrick Tracy Retires

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Emily Thompson
  • 142nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
"Started as a child, looking through the fence. Will end as a 60 year old...looking through the fence."

For some, deciding on what to do as a career comes after many twists and turns in life, but for others, they know what they want to do with their life as a child, and they pursue it from there.  For Chief Master Sgt. Patrick Tracy, 142nd Fighter Wing Operations Group Chief, he was the latter. 

"My history with the Air Base obviously goes back to long before I was old enough to ever get into the U.S. Military," said Tracy. "I always bugged my parents about coming out to the airport to watch the activity of what was an active duty base at the time.  As a kid, I spent the better of a decade there." 

Tracy was born in 1955, and between the 1960s and 70s, he started watching the aircraft from outside the fence. 

"In the summer of 1969, I had a teacher over at Franklin High School that knew my obvious inclination towards the military, which was a little uncommon in that era," said Tracy.  "The negativity towards the military was pretty high.

Despite that, his teacher, Mr. Maloney, told him a friend of his was stationed at the air base and worked out a deal for them to meet up.  His friend was Lt. Col. Marty Bergan, 123rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron Commander, at that time. 

"I came out and struck up a relationship," he said. "That was my first opportunity, 'inside the fence,' at the air base.  He had me look at joining the Civil Air Patrol Squadron that was on the air base at the time."

Tracy did just that, and joined the cadet program until he graduated from high school in May of 1973 and signed up for the guard.  After basic training, he went to technical school to become an Aircrew Flight Equipment (AFE) technician, which was called Personal Equipment back then.

When Tracy got back from training, he went to Mt. Hood Community College to study in an undergraduate pilot training course, and worked the swing-shift for the Command Post.  Tracy thought he might switch career fields and become a pilot, but he soon got a full-time technician position that opened up in AFE and he's been there ever since.

"I've had pilots ask me what it's like to be in the same organization for four decades and I always say, it's not the same organization," said Tracy.  "Each airframe made the base a completely different organization.  As the organizations evolved and changed it was pretty easy to do four decades without even blinking.

"I enjoyed every decade for different reasons; the F-101 Voodoo fighter was interesting to start.  Then, there were some pretty future thinking pilots at the time when they pushed for the F-4 Phantom II, it evolved the organization into what it is today," he said. "You saw more fighter-to-fighter tactics, which aligned the base with Tactical Air Command.

"It still has impacts today as to how we got here," said Tracy.  "It may have been that push for the F-4 that got us the F-15 Eagle in the first place."

However, changing the mission also meant there was a price to pay, the base lost an airframe in 1973, but had successful ejects, which was a big deal at the time.
"It helped cement what you were in the business for," said Tracy.  "There's no second chance.  The equipment has got to be right every time it goes in the airplane."
That wouldn't be the only F-4 the base would lose, but it was a good learning experience for not only Tracy but the AFE team.

There are several aspects of what the AFE career field consists of; AFE members have to attend all of the same training that pilots do, such as:  Combat Survival Training, Ejection Seat Training/Water Survival, Arctic Survival, and the Altitude Chamber.  They also, participate in various Instructor Training Courses, to educate pilots, and Mishap Investigation Courses.

"You never really got away from classes in this career field," Tracy said. "Educationally I would say, that the mishap investigation board was probably the most intense job that I have ever done in the career field.  There's no such thing as zero mishaps, that's probably never going to be achievable, but it's a lot better than it was."

According to Tracy, the F-15 Eagle is a pretty tough airplane, it doesn't come out of the sky unless you really do something wrong.  The airframe is pretty solid.
Tracy admits AFE is an unusual career field.  It is so varied in that you can be an instructor, maintainer, and an investigator, and branch out into opportunities and challenges that come along. 

"In the latter years obviously, we're now responsible for arming the pilots too, so we have our fingers in a lot of things," said Tracy.  "We've now seen what the organization was meant to sit here for, and that was to push that defense capability, where you were intercepting a potential adversarial launch aircraft off the U.S. Coast."

Even still, Tracy admits the number of fighter units in the guard is at an all-time low.  The Air Force has shrunk, but it doesn't have the same capabilities now without the guard. 

"The Air Force as a whole doesn't have the number of fighter units that it would need without the Air National Guard being part of the deployment picture all the time," Tracy said. "We've heard about how the guard has changed from a strategic reserve to an operational reserve, which on the operations side, I think is quite true."

According to Tracy, the guard is almost identical now with deployment durations, which pushes the guard units to be more ready to be called up to help.  Regardless of all the structural changes, since he's been in, Tracy admits he loves his job and doesn't regret any decisions he's made in his career.

"I have never been unhappy about my decision," said Tracy. "I don't regret not being a pilot.  I don't regret being an enlisted individual here.  I love the job; I never really got tired of it. There was always a new adventure on the horizon.

"The last ten years have been my favorite piece.  The respect level is high as a chief.  I would call it an honor, the way the respect has been delivered to me personally."
Master Sgt. Mike Larner has worked with Tracy for 13 years in AFE, and he knew right away they would get along and it would be a fun shop to work in.

"He's never demanded respect, it's just something that was either by the rank on his sleeve, or just knowing who he was; being so humble, that people just wanted to honor him in that respect," said Larner. "He's been my mentor for as long as I think I've been here."

Tracy made Chief in 2003 and became the AFE Superintendent.  He also, became the Operations Management Superintendent and eventually became the Weapons System Team Chief working for the National Guard Bureau.

"I never would've dreamed that E-8 or E-9 was in the cards," Tracy said. "I never expected it.  Handle your cards right, and treat your people well."

After 42 years of military service, the hardest thing for Tracy will be missing the interaction with the people and the relationships he has built over the years.

"I absolutely love the people," said Tracy. "The thing I will miss the most is the crew that I've got here.  The relationships, the people, and the mission; those are the things that I was in it for."

"He's not only well-known here, he's also well-known in the entire AFE community as well," said Larner. "We both have the same vision as far as striving to be the best AFE shop in the guard and in the Air Force.  That and making people feel a part of the team, taking care of people, and having a fun working environment."

Besides the people and his military career, Tracy will also miss watching the aircraft of course.

"There's not a week that goes by, that I'm not out watching the flight line," he said. "I might have to go back to where I was in 1959, out there 'on the fence' and re-establish my handprints. In the 1960s I was on the outside looking in, and in 2015, I'll be on the outside looking in."