SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. --
Chief Master Sgt. Terrence Greene walked toward his office desk, which blocked the corner of a third-story window overlooking Scott Air Force Base. As he moved, he waved his hands and talked about his plans to rearrange his new office at Air Mobility Command.
“We’re going to open all this up,” he said. “We’re going to let the light in.”
Over the next two hours, Greene offered a look at the off-road path that led him to his current position as the AMC command chief.
Upon meeting him, Greene exudes a mountain-like persona. He stands tall, confident, and sharp, and his speech is grounded in core values and high standards. His tone is direct, yet calm and friendly. When he enters a crowded room, he often starts off with a gleaming smile and an AMC chant, letting his voice fill every corner.
“Proud to be!” yells Greene during his trademark entrances.
“AMC!” The crowd responds.
This first impression is what could be expected of a man who has given over 30 years of service to his country with four previous stints as a command chief. His biography shows a shining reputation.
Originally joining for education and opportunity, Greene enlisted in 1988. Throughout his career, he earned the John L. Levitow Award during Airman Leadership School and was recognized as a distinguished graduate for both the Noncommissioned Officer and Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academies. In 1994, he conquered his personal goal of earning a nursing degree, and in 1998, he was recognized as the U.S. Air Force Transportation NCO of the Year.
But according to Greene, true leadership extends beyond what’s written in a one-page biography or a yearly performance report.
“When we’re afraid to talk about how we’re human, we’re seen by our Airmen as this perfect thing, like life is perfect -- and it is not,” said Greene. “We have to be careful with that. We have to create an environment of trust, and some of that also means revealing a little bit about yourself.”
Greene was born in Guyana, a country that borders the northern tip of Brazil and extends to the Atlantic Ocean. He could be viewed as a product of the ‘American dream,’ where hard work intersected with opportunity and created success, but his start in life was marked with some heavy challenges.
Greene climbed his first major mountain when he was just three months old, after the death of his mother.
“Dad was abusive, so that was her way out,” said Greene. “I grew up with an aunt, was never legally adopted and called her mom because that’s all I knew.”
According to Greene, he felt the sting of feeling like an illegitimate child. He grew up with his aunt and cousins, but never felt a sense of belonging. Well into life, he continued to struggle with the fallout of his biological mom’s passing.
“You look back and your brain always goes to ‘what if?’” said Greene. “For years and years I blamed myself for my mom’s suicide. Had I not been born, this would not have happened.”
It wasn’t until he joined the military, where he had access to resiliency training, counseling and supportive leadership, that he began to forgive, both himself and his mother, and to heal.
“Life is not easy,” said Greene. “You’ll get there, but life is a series of steps. And so is a career.”
Greene’s past has a direct impact on the ways in which he chooses to lead. To Greene, leaders must take on the role in loco parentis (in place of a parent), just as he experienced when he joined the military.
According to Greene, strong discipline overlapped with genuine care and love is key to the development of great Airmen.
“You need to take care of that young man, young woman,” said Greene. “It’s not just about their job; it’s about their life… some of them come from strong families, some of them not-so-strong families, but everyone has a story.”
Greene was conversational and relaxed but also forthright. He approached the interaction in the same way Gen. Maryanne Miller, AMC commander, described how he approached the start of their working relationship.
“It was an instant connection,” said Miller. “The day he and I sat down he said, ‘Hey, let’s get to know each other. Tell me about yourself.’”
Miller started through a rolodex of career milestones and qualifications that make up a four-star general at face value. But Greene interjected.
“No, no, no,” said Greene. “Tell me about yourself. Tell me who Ms. Maryanne Miller is.”
Greene’s persistence to get to know the person, not just the uniform, no matter his or her rank or accolades, is what solidified him as “the right choice” for Miller.
“That’s a hard conversation, to open your heart to somebody and say, ‘Okay, here it is, Chief,’” said Miller. “I know this teammate; I know his heart. When you know all of that, trust is there, and you can move mountains.”
As AMC’s command chief, Greene represents more than 80,000 total force enlisted personnel assigned to the command. Greene says his focus is to help Airmen move the mountains that stand in their way, allowing them to simply focus on the mission and take care of each other.
“As the AMC command chief I speak to the boss,” said Greene. “So that’s one of the things I want to do for our Airmen - to be that voice, get stuff out of their way and let them enjoy serving our nation.”
Greene plans to use base visits, interpersonal communication, and social media to connect with the enlisted force. In return, what Greene wants is simple; for Airmen to be great Airmen, leaders to be great leaders.
“Leaders must cultivate an environment in which our Airmen can thrive,” said Greene. “To be a team that’s what you have to have, that connective tissue.”
Greene leaned to the side of his chair, resting his chin on his thumb and index finger and took a moment to reflect.
“We all enlist for different reasons,” said Greene. “But around five to eight years in, something happens for Airmen. That thing that happens is consistent. It’s the sense of family, it’s the sense of community. A sense of belonging and this motivates us to actually ‘join’ the Air Force.”
Greene looked off into the distance and sighed.
“We’ve got great people,” said Greene. “I’m on the eve of my career, but I tell ya, I wish I was joining again.”