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JB Charleston protocol officer recognized as Honorary Chief

By Airman 1st Class Ashlee Galloway | February 23, 2012

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. -- There is only one path to becoming an E-9 in the Air Force; work hard and be promoted from E-8. But there is a lesser known avenue to becoming a chief master sergeant.

Catherine Knichel, 628th Air Base Wing chief of protocol was recognized as an 'Honorary Chief Master Sergeant' at an induction ceremony at Joint Base Charleston - Air Base Feb. 4.

The honor recognizes Joint Base Charleston leaders, service members or civilians, who have displayed exemplary concern for the enlisted force and who possess the traits of a chief master sergeant.

"People who know me, know that I have worked with enlisted members for years," said Knichel. "What most people don't know, is my husband is retired enlisted Navy, so being a part of the enlisted community has always been the heart of what I do."

Honorary chief master sergeants are hard to come by, especially civilians. Knichel is the second civilian honorary chief to be inducted in JB Charleston. Honorary chiefs are selected by a base's chief master sergeant's group. Once inducted, the honorary chief becomes one of them.

As chief of protocol, Knichel's duties include reviewing scripts, seating, meeting with people to discuss upcoming ceremonial events, flightline arrivals and preparations for distinguished visitors. "My door is a revolving door," Knichel said.

Knichel trains Airmen from around the base who are assigned to work in the protocol office for a minimum of one year as a temporary duty assignment. She teaches Airmen by providing hands-on training, formal instruction and putting them in leadership positions to do the job.

"I strive to see them take the next step in their careers and help them broaden their leadership style," Knichel said. "They develop skills which can be used in the military or in the civilian world."

Knichel doesn't just work with the people in her office; she develops a relationship with them outside the office as well. It is important to develop strong relationships with co-workers and their families, she said.

"When one of my staff members was recognized as the John Levitow Award recipient during the Airman Leadership School graduation, I was extremely proud," Knichel said.

Though Knichel doesn't have much down time, when she does get a break she enjoys spending time with her family, taking walks and riding her bike. She continues to teach youth programs and serves at her local church.

Chief Master Sgt. Damien Fox, 437th Operations Group superintendent, 437th Airlift Wing said, "I nominated Kathy because she has demonstrated the qualities we expect from our chief master sergeants. She has always put the JB Charleston mission, personnel and enlisted members first through her hard work and leadership by showcasing and telling the story of our Airmen, civilians and contractors' accomplishments. She also mentors our Airmen daily on how they can be more effective leaders and supervisors."

When a civilian is made an honorary chief, it indicates a collective vote of respect by a base's chief's group. They are recognizing someone who they believe would have made an awesome chief themselves, Fox said.

"Her leadership and dedication also plays a large role in maintaining our Air Force heritage and also allows our Airmen's accomplishment to be recognized. Mrs. Knichel takes the time to mentor, guide and lead our Airmen so they can grow as leaders and professionals. Her leadership by example, mentorship and dedication to our Airmen is what we ask of our leaders and chiefs making her selection as honorary chief warranted and well earned."

Chief Master Sgt. Tonia Savidge, 628th Mission Support Group superintendent, said. "Ms. Kathy was nominated for this award because of her demonstrated commitment to the development of our enlisted force. Behind the scenes of every DV visit, ceremony or JB Charleston event, Ms. Kathy is mentoring, advising and developing Airmen. We routinely provide her office temporary manpower to help augment the Wing's 'No Fail' protocol mission. The chief's group only selects someone who has repeatedly demonstrated the highest quality of commitment to the mission and the enlisted force. It is not to be taken lightly."

Knichel has been serving the Charleston Air Force community since 1986 and was asked to become a protocol officer when Charleston received its first C-17 Globemaster III and would like to thank every chief that has ever served at JB Charleston.

Looking back at her award, she said, "It's an amazing feeling. I never would have imagined it ... ever."

Knichel has served under 13 wing commanders and command chiefs and literally hundreds of chief master sergeants that have been stationed in Charleston. According to her, everyone of them has been an inspiration.

"I've just received my 30 year pin and reflecting back through the years, I continue to be extremely honored and humbled by this experience," Knichel said.

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