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NEWS | Feb. 6, 2024

Top Enlisted Leader Soars Higher

After 22 years, Chief Master Sgt. Ben Reed finally reached the top of the mountain. Ascending through the Air Force enlisted ranks was a grueling climb, with more responsibilities and commitments the higher up he went. Chief Master Sgt. Reed overcame every challenge to achieve what so few could.

But what if reaching the top wasn’t enough?

Only one percent of the total enlisted Air Force earns the rank of chief master sergeant. For the very few that manage to achieve the title of “Chief” that is the end goal of their career, but not for Reed. He wanted more. After 22 years of enlisted service and earning the highest enlisted rank, Chief Reed took the leap to start a new beginning and commission as an officer.

“When I made chief, I had to start thinking about what my next move was going to be,” said now 2nd Lt. Reed, a civil engineer with the 182nd Civil Engineer Squadron. “I started getting comfortable in my position, and I felt like I needed to do something else. So, I was thinking about commissioning and being able to serve in another capacity and still being able to give back.”

When Reed first enlisted as a firefighter at Scott Air Force Base over two decades ago, he never envisioned commissioning as an officer. However, when he graduated college in 2007, his thinking started to change.

“When I joined, I went in pretty blindly as to the depth of what the force was actually made up of,” said Reed. “I think maturing over the years has made me want more and more and take things more seriously.”

Retired Master Sgt. Todd Prater, who has known Reed for 15 years and has gone through the ranks with Reed describes his career as “impressive."

“He did two jobs to make that chief position,” said Prater. “To go from a firefighter, then go through school and then come back here as a maintenance facility person and also an engineer… is impressive.”

Prater knew that Reed had wanted to commission for a long time and watched his hard work to try to make his goal happen over the years. Becoming an officer was not a quick road for Reed. His heart was set on the civil engineer position, but his degree did not meet the very specific requirements set for that career. He and several of his mentors tried to submit waivers and find workarounds, but they had no luck.

“I kind of gave up, honestly, and just pressed as hard as I could, until I made chief,” said Reed. “Being a chief was an amazing experience. To finally reach the end goal of the enlisted force and being able to do everything that I've always wanted to do for the enlisted Airmen around me all these years.”

Even though Reed was not able to commission like he wanted to for close to two decades, he still pushed himself to great achievements. Reed’s hard work and patience not only paid off in earning the rare chief title but also led him back to his long awaited goal of commissioning into civil engineering.

“About a year into being a chief they changed the officer classification directory and added my specific degree into the career field. There was a gap in position here in civil engineering with the wing that needed to be filled,” said Reed. “It was about 17 years that I was trying to get a commission and it didn't work out and then it finally did.”

Switching from top of the enlisted to bottom of the officers, Reed will have many challenges ahead of him.

“It's really cool to see someone who is 40 years old doing something that most younger people are doing,” said Prater. “It's almost like he's restarting another career.”

Prater saw his work ethic carry him through the enlisted ranks and has no doubt that same work ethic will help him though the officer ranks as well. Reed also has years of prior military service behind him that will help push through the challenges of being an officer, which is not something that many newly commissioned second lieutenants can boast about. As a senior enlisted member, Reed gained lots of leadership experience that is helpful to him even more now. In his new position as an officer he is able to use that experience to help others.

“My 'why' would be to continue to help everyone else joining,” said Reed, "and guiding them along on the right path and being a voice for them.”