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Chief’s Corner: CMSgt Matthew Collingridge

A man and woman pose for a photo with their two sons.

From left to right, Brady, Tyler, Lisa and Matthew Collingridge take a family photo during their vacation to Disney World in Orlando, Florida, July 2022. In his commentary, Collingridge recognized the importance of sharing both successes and failures to help those around us continue to grow, specifically how to successfully balance time with family and work. (Courtesy photo)

Official photo

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Matthew Collingridge is the Space Base Delta 6 senior enlisted Airman at Peterson Space Force Base, Colorado, Oct. 25, 2022. In his commentary, Collingridge spoke about how he and his family recognized and overcame the various obstacles they experienced throughout his career.

PETERSON SPACE FORCE BASE, Colo. --

Learning from mistakes is a critical part of growing as an person, Airman, Guardian, etc. 

Trust me, I have learned plenty from my mistakes over the years. As a leader, it is important that we share both our successes and failures to help those around us continue to grow and to avoid some of the pitfalls that we have fallen into.

It is also important for those that we lead to understand that despite the rank that we wear, or the position that we hold, most of us have encountered significant struggles along the way. The idea that someone can attain success in any profession, without making mistakes, is simply untrue.

As a newly minted noncommissioned officer, I was eager to take on more responsibility and give back to my service. I had been working at the Air Force Research Lab on Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, for almost five years, and I was looking for something more. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my job as a computer programmer. I worked with great people, had a flexible schedule and plenty of opportunities to thrive. My only complaint was one which I think many young NCOs share: I wanted to have a more direct impact on shaping our force. To me, the best way to do that was to become a Military Training Leader.

I initiated the application and, after about six weeks, I received notification that I had been selected as an MTL for the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center at the Presidio of Monterey. My wife and me were excited despite plans to leave behind our family support in New Mexico. This was our first permanent change of station, which added a considerable amount of stress. Either way, we were thrilled for our new assignment and all the opportunities it would bring. After speaking with my sponsor, I knew life would be dramatically different than it had been while working at AFRL. I did my best to prepare my wife for the longer, less predictable work schedule that would likely accompany this special duty. 

When I arrived at the 311th Training Squadron, I remember being extremely impressed by the professionalism of both the MTL cadre and leadership team. I quickly realized that I needed to “step up my game” to meet the expectations of my newly assigned unit.

I worked hard to learn my job; I loved it. It was exactly the environment and opportunity that I had been seeking. I was able to provide direct guidance and mentorship to the 135 Airmen that were assigned to me as a “street” MTL. I spent long hours, away from home, dedicated to honing my craft and caring for the needs of the Airmen. I was laser-focused on making myself indispensable to the students and our leadership team. I was the first to raise my hand for any opportunities and lived by the mantra of “never walk a problem by.”

Over the next five years, I became the go-to for all things military training and worked my way up the chain from street MTL to Flight Chief of Military Training, a senior noncommissioned officer position that I was selected for as a technical sergeant. I had the confidence of my leadership and had been rewarded and recognized for my work ethic and accomplishments numerous times. I was at the pinnacle of my career as an MTL and had set myself for years to come. 

The equation was simple: work hard, be fully dedicated to the Airmen and the mission and success would follow. 

There was one major flaw with this logic. Although, I was totally dedicated to providing whatever was needed at work and to my Airmen, I was completely missing the mark at home. I had misinterpreted the Air Force core value of “service before self” to mean that my sole focus was on taking care of my Airmen and my duties at work. My full attention was spent on becoming indispensable blinded me from recognizing that major issues had developed in my home life. I made my Airmen my main priority and left my family to deal with my absence.

Even when I was at home, I was disconnected and distracted. I became so short-sighted, believing that my unit couldn’t operate without me, that I was willing to sacrifice time with my family. I cut leave short, missed important family events, and worked longer than needed hours. The red flags were there, but I chose to ignore them. I constantly made excuses to my family and broke promises that it would ease up over time -- but I never let it. When I look back at my time as an MTL, it's easy to see how I failed to provide the care and support that my family needed, but at that moment, I couldn’t see it. 

Despite my missteps, my time as an MTL provided valuable lessons that I applied to both my professional and personal life. The obvious professional takeaway was that it equipped me to counsel and mentor other service members. My success as an MTL also made me more competitive for promotion. But, more important than anything else, my time in military training taught me the value of balance.

There is a misconception that maintaining a work-life balance means providing equal time and effort toward both. For many of us, that simply isn’t possible. There are times when you’ll need to devote more time and attention to work, and there are crucial times when your family will require your undivided attention. To me, being deliberate with your time and preparing for eventualities are key. It's difficult to anticipate what life will throw at you, but using your time wisely when it is within your control is critical. Successfully maintaining balance relies on your ability to seamlessly shift focus because you have anticipated and prepared in all areas of your life.  

I am extremely fortunate that my relationship with my wife and sons endured my tour as an MTL. Think about my experiences and if or how they apply to your situation. Thankfully I have learned from my mistakes, hopefully you can too.

Peterson SFB Schriever SFBCheyenne Mountain SFSThule AB New Boston SFS Kaena Point SFS Maui