Sully’s Words of Wisdom

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Julia Ahaesy
  • 102nd Intelligence Wing
The Massachusetts Air National Guard said farewell to State Command Chief Master Sgt. Sean Sullivan during his retirement ceremony March 3, 2024. 

In his role, Sullivan served as the top enlisted member of the state and was responsible for leading 2,000 Airmen of the 102nd Intelligence Wing, 104th Fighter Wing and Joint Force Headquarters-Massachusetts. 

The State Command Chief’s service started in 1983 after enlisting in the Marine Corps, serving four years in the infantry before joining the Massachusetts Army National Guard in 1987. During his 12 years as a Soldier, Chief Sullivan received a Commission as a Second Lieutenant. In 2009, he enlisted in the MANG and accepted a position as the Ground Safety NCOIC for the 267th Combat Communications Squadron. Chief Sullivan was selected to become a First Sergeant at the squadron and wing level before taking the role of State Command Chief.

Throughout his military career, Sullivan became an inspiration, leader and friend to many of his fellow service members. His outstanding leadership and dedicated service aided him in effectively encouraging enlisted professional development and uplifting the Airmen he led along the way. His key to leadership is to lead as a team, understand your purpose and know your why.

As Sullivan retires, we asked him to share what he learned during his time in service.

What advice would you give an Airman whose ultimate goal is to be Command Chief? 

“There are a few things Airmen need to start doing from day one to prepare for the big assignments. First, never neglect your Professional Military Education (PME) and make sure you seek out any leadership school or conferences you can make it to. Knowledge is key and the more the better. 

Next, apply that knowledge and take the tough assignments. Look for opportunities that challenge, and even scare you. This builds wisdom – and wisdom and knowledge build relevance. As you wait, wait professionally and do not compete with your peers, build with them. Those relationships will strengthen you as you move into your own leadership positions. 

Build teams so you can go far. You can go fast alone, but you will go far as a team. There is no such thing as a well-rounded leader, but there are well-rounded teams. Know your strengths and weaknesses and find people you trust and want to develop to help you fill in the gaps. 

As you lead, be trustworthy and empower your people. Be stable and provide a stable environment for them to grow in. Be compassionate and listen when they need to talk. Build hope for their future and mentor them honestly letting them know where they have gaps and help them overcome them.

And never do something to get promoted. Do it to develop yourself and the promotions will come.”

Looking over your career, what does your service mean to you?

“My service is part of me. It is what I wanted to do and be from my childhood. I watched those who served and saw that they were part of something bigger and had a bond with each other that those outside of the warrior culture would never understand. I wanted to be part of that. Every time I exited the service, I felt the loss and came back in, usually to another branch or new assignment. I was never disappointed. That bond of the warrior is there no matter what branch you serve in, what schools you have been to or what MOS/AFSC you have. There is as much nobility in being the best PA in the wing as there is in being the best SEAL in Team 6. It is not the job, it is the heart of the warrior in the uniform.”

As you retire after decades of service … what do you hope to leave behind?  

“I’m forever grateful for my career. Life could have taken me in so many different directions. But the path of the warrior made me a better person and I did the best I could to be a good warrior and a good leader. I had no special talents other than a passion for those I serve, and hopefully that was enough.”