MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin Air National Guard’s eighth state command chief is eager to hit the ground running to meet the coming challenges not just to the organization, but the nation.
“It’s an awesome time to be in the Wisconsin Air National Guard,” said Chief Master Sgt. Chad Workman, who became the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s senior enlisted leader during a formal ceremony April 1 at Joint Force Headquarters, the Wisconsin National Guard headquarters in Madison. “The way that we do business is changing at a pace like we’ve never seen before. We must continue to keep our foot on the gas and accelerate to meet the challenges our nation may face.”
Some of the changes Workman alluded to are immediate and visible, such as the arrival of the F-35 Lightning fighter jet to Truax Field later this month. Others are less visible but still significant, such as the Defense Department pivots its focus to the Pacific as China seeks to expand its influence. He noted that the recently completed deployment of members of the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 128th Air Refueling Wing to Guam is part of that pivot.
“They were on the forefront of our strategic deterrent, keeping our adversaries in check, demonstrating our capability to reach out anywhere in the world and to take the fight to anyone’s doorstep,” Workman said.
Brig. Gen. David May, Wisconsin’s deputy adjutant general for Air, said Workman was well-prepared for his new assignment.
“Chief Workman is as much a bookworm as Chief [Meredith] Conn is — exceptionally well-informed on national security matters, specifically China,” May said during the April 1 ceremony. “He’s had a very good career of experiences, and comes to this full-time position having been a drill-status Guardsman. This perspective will serve us well as we continue to challenge our force to be ready for strategic global competition like we have not seen since the Cold War.”
Workman said he was fortunate to follow in the footsteps of Chief Master Sgt. Meredith Conn, the first female to serve as Wisconsin’s state command chief.
“She has provided me with outstanding continuity and has greatly set me up for success,” Workman said. “It’s obvious how much Chief Conn loved her Airmen. She became the state command chief during the first pandemic in 100 years, making it difficult to be out in the field. She always found ways to support and engage with our Airmen. Her dedication to professionally developing our NCOs shines through all our enlisted Airmen who participated in the state enlisted development program.”
“We could not have asked for a more caring and engaged senior leader to look after our Airmen, and to advise me and Maj. Gen. [Paul] Knapp during the massive uptick in domestic operations from 2020 and forward,” May said.
Knapp, Wisconsin’s adjutant general and commander of the Wisconsin National Guard, was not able to attend the change of responsibility ceremony.
“I think her legacy will be the impact she has left on the position of state command chief itself,” May continued. “My first request on day one was that she strengthen and clarify the portfolio for this position. And as she leaves, we see that clarity in the way we approach the management, development and support of our enlisted force.”
Conn stepped down from the state command chief role 24 years to the day she transferred to the Wisconsin Air National Guard from active duty.
“I really happened on the Guard by accident,” Conn said. She was planning to earn a teaching degree, and was happy to learn she could still serve while attending college full-time. She appreciates the differences between the active and reserve components.
“The role of state command chief is so special because we get to celebrate the pinnacle of our career with an organization that we’ve been a part of for a very long time,” Conn said.
Active duty Air Force command chiefs usually are brought into units from outside, whereas in the Air National Guard they are developed and promoted from within.
“Some of you Airmen we grew up with in our careers,” Conn explained. “So, while my intent when I speak to you today is to bid farewell to my position, I want you to know that it’s much more personal than that because you’ve all been my family for many, many years.”
Conn created the first human resource advisor program at Volk Field Combat Readiness Training Center, and brought a strong emphasis on enlisted professional development to her role as state command chief. According to May, Conn pushed to educate Wisconsin National Guard Airmen on the pivot to focus on near-peer competition with China.
“How could we expect our force to pivot with us if we don’t inform our Airmen and tell them where they fit in?” May said. “She got that, and she made that happen.”
Conn reflected on the performance of Wisconsin’s Airmen during her tenure as state command chief. Airmen were called in unprecedented numbers to support domestic missions, from collecting samples at COVID testing sites across the state to providing security in response to civil unrest in Wisconsin, and even deploying to Washington, D.C. to provide security in early 2021.
“You all played some part in carrying this mission out without fail,” Conn said. “You faced this challenge and performed your mission with integrity, service and excellence, and I am so proud of all of you. I will forever remember our toughest times as a state and nation as the times I swelled with pride to stand with you as a member of the Wisconsin National Guard.”
After passing a ceremonial saber to Workman as a symbol of the responsibility of his new role, Conn praised her successor.
“Chief Workman, there could not be a better time for you to lead in this position,” Conn said. “I’ve seen you consistently lead with compassion and commitment, and I’m so excited to see where you take this next generation of Airmen.”
Conn closed her remarks with praise for Wisconsin’s Airmen.
“I’m totally biased, but it is well known throughout the country that the Wisconsin Air National Guard is high-caliber,” Conn said. “We have a great reputation, and everyone talks about us. I can attest that this is because you have high expectations of yourselves as Airmen. You work and live from your high character and values, and you take great pride in being part of this organization.
“From the bottom of my heart, I believe we are the best Air Guard in the nation,” Conn continued. We are only as good as the people — and that’s you. Thank you for making us so proud and for supporting me as your seventh Wisconsin Air National Guard command chief.”
Workman also praised Wisconsin’s Airmen, and issued a challenge to them.
“Much like the rest of the workforce, we have experienced a decline in finding those with a propensity to serve in our military,” Workman said. “The last two years have been exceptionally challenging when meeting our [recruiting goals]. I challenge you all to get out of your comfort zone and become ambassadors for the Wisconsin National Guard. Even I had to get out of my own comfort zone and look for new ways to use social media to tell our story. Once we get these Airmen into our ranks, we need to make it a priority to keep them.”
Workman noted that the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs’ Comprehensive Health and Wellness Program has been recognized as a best practice across the force, and urged Airmen to continue to participate and promote those programs to ensure personal readiness and resilience.
“I want to challenge our leaders to create a work environment that is inclusive and empowering for our Airmen so that they can reach their full potential,” Workman continued. “This is just a snapshot of where we are going and what our priorities need to be to get there. As a leadership team, we are constantly discussing what we can do to continue to make ourselves relevant with the Wisconsin Air National Guard and within the Air Force. If we do not continue to accelerate change in the way we do business, we will be left out of the fight.”
Workman is also a lieutenant with the Madison Fire Department, though he is on leave from that job while he serves as the state command chief. He said he was honored to have the opportunity to serve in this role, and was excited for what the future holds.
“I’m confident that we’ll be in a much different place — far better, nonetheless,” he said. “I’m proud to serve alongside of you as we all continue to move forward with confidence.”
May said the future of the Wisconsin Air National Guard is “incredibly bright.”
“We’ve benefited greatly from the firm leadership, caring and advice of Chief Conn, and now we welcome Chief Workman to continue on into what, no doubt, will be an exciting term of service with the command group of the Wisconsin National Guard,” May said. “Chief Conn, thank you and congratulations. Chief Workman, let’s go.”