Chief Clark: Leading from experience

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Michael Washburn
  • 355th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
(Editor's note: This year will mark the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. These acts brought America to a screeching halt; nothing else that day seemed to matter. Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives on that Tuesday morning, and the destiny of a generation changed forever. This is a 10 part series about those serving in the military and how their stories paint a picture that shaped today's Air Force.)

"During Sept. 11, I was at Osan Air Base, Korea," said Chief Master Sgt. Layton Clark, 12th Air Force, Air Forces' Southern Command Chief Master Sgt. "At the time, I was a Senior Master Sergeant and working operations for security forces. We were doing an exercise that night and when I came home, around 8:30 p.m., I dropped all my gear and turned on the TV. I happened to catch the news talking about the towers and I then saw the second aircraft fly into the tower as it was happening live. I picked up my gear, went back to the squadron and started the recall for posting force protection condition Delta. It was apparent our nation was under attack."

"My name is Chief Clark, and my first enlistment in the Air Force was March 27, 1980. I spent about 18 months in the Ohio Air National Guard and then had enlisted to go to college, but found myself lacking responsibility to keep my grades up and capitalize on that experience. I decided to come back into active-duty and was able to secure an additional discharge from the Ohio Air Guard and came back to active-duty on Nov. 30, 1982."

Chief Clark has primarily worked in security forces his whole career and experienced nearly every aspect of the career field. He has done everything from air base defense, police services and operations, anti-terrorism and some administrative functions.

Back in the early 80's when Chief Clark began his career, the Air Force was dramatically different than what it is today.

"It was a little different back then," Chief Clark said. "It was more of a garrison Air Force. We were more concerned in strategic reach and capabilities of the Air Force and we weren't deploying as significantly as we are now."

Even before the attacks on Sept. 11, Chief Clark described Korea as being an already dangerous area. He says even when Airmen are performing training exercises they're in full body armor with their weapon. After the attacks, things got more serious.

"Everyone was hyped up," Chief Clark said. "We started doing off-base patrols, we took our checkpoints and pushed them out further down the roads, blocked off Songtan city and no one was allowed off base. It got to a point where you knew why you were there and everyone knew they could attack us anywhere. We even had our track vehicles out, the M113s, - those are our big armored personnel carriers. They were driving around base with a big American flag on the back."

During the time following the attacks, there was a lot of responsibility for Chief Clark to be there for his Airmen and lead by example.

"Growing up in the security forces career, leading by example and 'do as I do' is exactly what a fire-team leader says," Chief Clark said. "It's not asking my Airmen to do something I wasn't willing or capable to do myself. I needed to make sure I was there; I was visible, especially as a chief or as a senior noncommissioned officer and that I was calm and collected."

But it wasn't easy for Chief Clark or anyone on the base, especially the days following Sept. 11. He describes that the base had to go into a Spartan like existence.

"There was absolutely no drinking on base or anything like that because everyone was on recall," Chief Clark said. "It was very intense. There was generally no time off until we started to pull in augmentation of security forces from the regional training center and the installation. Dealing with everyone was probably the hardest aspects during this time because we were away from our families and you had to give people time to kind of get back to themselves."

The attacks also led to a number of deployments. Chief Clark, after returning home to Langley, Virginia, was deployed within five months to Iraq. Setting up new bases and deployments became a way of life, Chief Clark said.

With these new deployments came new challenges as well. After 9/11, Airmen were being deployed to locations no one had been to before. But even with the deployments and the fear of the unknown, morale was high.

"Good leaders try to inspire people to do things they feel they're not ready for or that they're afraid to do," Chief Clark said.

That's what Chief Clark wanted to do. Because of all the planning that was done before hand, whenever new Airmen would arrive at the base in Iraq, little things such as how the mail system worked and rations were already worked out. It kept the overall morale very high. Because the base was so new, it almost had to be built from the ground up.

"I would go around in my body armor and my weapon and help do the jobs that needed to be done," Chief Clark said. "We built barriers, 23 defensive fighting positions and we filled about 8,000 sandbags. We got the dining facility up and running after eating meals-ready-to-eat for 52 days. There was a sense of purpose, unity and accomplishment."

Even after Chief Clark's 31 years of service and dedication to the Air Force, he is confident that he's leaving the Air Force in good hands.

"One of the key differences between this generation and previous ones, is this generation has always dealt with computers," Chief Clark said. "They grew up in the generation of people who watched or were aware of everything after 9/11, so the world was not a safe place for them. They knew right away that there were evil people that were capable of killing their own. They embrace diversity and different ways of thinking very well. Many will be great leaders for our nation and be the pillars of our society. I'm not worried about them. They're already better than us."