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Old maintenance hand, State Command Chief retires

Missouri Air National Guard's Command Chief Master Sgt. William D. Phillips salutes Assistant Adjutant General Steven Cotter, Rosecrans Air National Guard base, St. Joseph, Mo., March 3, 2012. Chief Phillips has over 40 years of service in the Air National Guard and started out as a member, here, at the 139th Airlift Wing. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Kelsey Stuart)

Missouri Air National Guard's Command Chief Master Sgt. William D. Phillips salutes Assistant Adjutant General Steven Cotter, Rosecrans Air National Guard base, St. Joseph, Mo., March 3, 2012. Chief Phillips has over 40 years of service in the Air National Guard and started out as a member, here, at the 139th Airlift Wing. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Kelsey Stuart)

Missouri Air National Guard's Command Chief Master Sgt. William D. Phillips retires from the Air National Guard, Rosecrans Air National Guard base, St. Joseph, Mo., March 3, 2012. Chief Phillips has over 40 years of service in the Air National Guard and started out as a member, here, at the 139th Airlift Wing. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Kelsey Stuart)

Missouri Air National Guard's Command Chief Master Sgt. William D. Phillips retires from the Air National Guard, Rosecrans Air National Guard base, St. Joseph, Mo., March 3, 2012. Chief Phillips has over 40 years of service in the Air National Guard and started out as a member, here, at the 139th Airlift Wing. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Kelsey Stuart)

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- A 139th Airlift Wing veteran, who achieved the top enlisted title in the Missouri Air National Guard, gave his parting words to a formation comprised of time-honored friendships forged from nearly 41 years of service.

Chief Master Sgt. William Phillips, State Command Chief, was honored in a retirement ceremony March 3 at Rosecrans Air Guard Base by his fellow service members, family and friends.

"As with all good things, my time in the Missouri Air National Guard must come to a close," said Phillips. "It has been a phenomenal ride."

The thin and silver haired chief master sergeant received many rounds of applause on a stage set inside an aircraft hangar. He was lauded by Army Maj. Gen. Stephen Danner, Adjutant General, and Brig. Gen. Stephen Cotter, Assistant Adjutant General - Air, among others.

Airmen from Air Guard units across the state were also in attendance to wish Phillips well.

"He has been there for us these many, many years," said Danner, who thanked Phillips and his wife of 33 years for their service and support. "He represents what all of us hope to be: part of a family."

Phillips spent about 36 years of his career in aircraft maintenance. It's a position that took him around the world, many times, for challenging deployments, earning the high respect from those who knew him. He also earned more than two dozen medals and awards along the way.

He enlisted with the 139th in 1971, having received a ride to the base from Cotter, who grew up in the same neighborhood of Savannah, Mo.

"He is the epitome of everything we look for in an Airman," said Cotter. "I am proud to call him my lifelong friend."

Phillips first worked on the KC-97 Stratotanker.

That aircraft mission took him to Germany for Operation Creek Party. He was among the last, still serving, citizen-Airmen in the Air Force to have managed that operation, which sustained the earliest known Air Guard rotation for active duty operations.

Phillips retrained to maintain the C-130 Hercules aircraft when the 139th converted from an aerial refueling mission in the mid-80's to its current airlift mission.

Those missions included multiple deployments for Operations Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom as well as countless other state and federal missions.

During a deployment to Tabuk, Saudi Arabia, Phillips recalled the night he was tasked to send the first maintainers on an aircraft into Baghdad "just as the war kicked off."

"I thought ... I have to send two of our guys into harm's way, but I knew that it was my job," said Phillips.

He turned around to see every maintainer's hand in the air, volunteering to go.

"That's the dedication of our Missouri Air National Guard Airmen, and that's what made my job easy," he said.

More recent missions included supervision of enlisted Airmen during state active duty callouts of the Guard for tornados and floods.

As Missouri's Command Chief, a position he held since 2007, Phillips was responsible for the moral and welfare of more than 2,400 Airmen at two flying wings and at other geographically separated units across the state.

Cotter said Phillips made more than 60 morale visits to those units during his tenure. He also spearheaded numerous programs that supported the enlisted forces and their families.

"The chief master sergeants and the enlisted Airmen are the back bone of our organization," Phillips explained. "They are the ones who make it happen."