An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

NEWS | Nov. 5, 2013

Command Chief: Grounded in Reality

By Aiman 1st Class Chacarra Neal Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

"Rank doesn't matter, actions do," said Chief Master Sgt. Shawn M. Hughes, 437th Airlift Wing command chief.

Hughes was appointed as the 437th AW Command Chief on 10 July 2013.

Born Sean Michael Kennedy in Northern Michigan with three other siblings, Hughes's upbringing was not of the traditional type.

"My mother went AWOL when I was six," said Hughes. "I was put in child protective services, along with one of my brothers."

The lengthy process of finding a new home for Hughes was just starting.

"After my mother left, I was moved into and out of several different foster homes before finally meeting the Hughes family," said Hughes.

Even though Hughes had found a home and a new family, his brothers and sisters were spread out among three separate families.

"They took me in as if I were one of their own, I was overwhelmed at how well the Hughes's treated me," said Hughes.

The years passed and throughout high school, Hughes spent his summers working on a farm.

"That was one of the deals, when you were old enough to work, you worked."

Following high school Hughes enrolled in college. After about three years of going to school full-time and working a full-time job he decided that was not the path for him.

"I was hanging with the wrong crowd," said Hughes. "I didn't have any goals, so I found myself going nowhere. I was in college just to be in college. Truth is I didn't fit in at school, I didn't fit in at work, I didn't even fit in with the wrong crowd."

So Hughes decided to take another route.

"After seeing one of my close friends join the Air Force I took a hard long look in the mirror and decided that I was going nowhere anytime fast if I didn't make a change as well," said Hughes.

Hughes joined the Air Force May of 1987 as a boom operator on a KC-135 Stratotanker.

"I had the greatest view in the Air Force," said Hughes. "It was the perfect job for me at that time."

A boom operator performs in-flight refueling.

Lying on their stomachs in the tail section of a Stratotanker, boom operators peer through a small window while maneuvering a refueling boom into an awaiting aircraft thirsty for fuel.

Hughes loved his job, but at the end of the day he still had other hobbies that he did to recharge so he would be his best at work.

"While playing an NBA tryouts basketball game ... also known as a pick-up game during lunch at the base gym, my legs were swept out from underneath me and a loud popping noise could be heard throughout the entire gym," said Hughes.

The injury left Hughes with a torn ACL and a torn meniscus leaving Hughes unable to fulfill his duties as a boom operator.

"I didn't like the idea of not being able to fly in the aircraft and get the mission done, so after a hard long talk with the flight doctor I decided surgery was the only way I could return to normal," said Hughes.

The four hour surgery was not the only hurdle Hughes was about to face, he would not only have to physically overcome the injury, but mentally as well.

"It took me about eight years to fully recover from the injury. I held onto the injury for a long time. Every little twinge, tweak, or pinch sent me back to the doc until one day I had enough." said Hughes. "I threw my knee brace away and mentally let go of the fear that I would reinjure my knee."

Hughes developed a great passion for bike riding which stemmed from his knee injury.

"I've always been competitive, not against other people, but myself," said Hughes. "My internal self-challenge comes from a long standing feeling that I don't belong."

Hughes took his passion for bike riding and running to a new level when he decided to take on the challenge of Iron Man Triathlons.

An Iron Man Triathlon starts with a Claustrophic 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile bike, and ending with a grueling 26.2 mile run.

"I don't think in Air Force terms when it comes to physical fitness, it is just who I am," said Hughes. "It is my lifestyle. This is how I would live whether I was in the Air Force or not."

With every mountain that Hughes had to climb during his lifetime he always found a way to look at the bright side of things which has left him with his own unique view on life.

"How you do things is equally as important as what you do," said Hughes. "While you can achieve success by destroying or breaking an organization, if you can take people and raise them up rather than running them into the ground to achieve success, then you've truly done something."

Hughes stated that he will retire when he wakes up and has lost motivation to go to work. That day will be when he can no longer be understood by young Airman, or when he can no longer hold a conversation with those appointed above him.

"Walking into a room I would like to be known as the guy who did," said Hughes.

"You get one spin on the merry-go-round," said Hughes. "One shot at life. Figure out who you are and ground yourself in that. Do the best that you can. And don't be afraid to be outstanding."

With a wife and two children and more than 25 years of experience in the Air Force, Hughes stands ready to serve as the 437th AW Command Chief.