Barnes Center dedicated to former CMSAF

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Family and friends gathered July 24 as Air University officials dedicated the Thomas N. Barnes Center for Enlisted Education to the fourth chief master sergeant of the Air Force.

"What a great day for our Air Force," said current Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Rodney J. McKinley. "Chief Barnes was the chief master sergeant of the Air Force during very turbulent times in our country and in our Air Force. Our nation faced many challenges in the middle '70s. We could not have had a better leader, a better chief master sergeant of the Air Force, than Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Thomas Barnes to get us through those times."

While dealing with the conflict in Vietnam and race and gender relations within the Air Force, Chief Barnes tackled a major initiative to expand the spectrum of profession military education for enlisted personnel.

"It is more than fitting that we honor this new enlisted center for education by naming it after a former chief master sergeant of the Air Force who put so much energy into improving education," said Col. Wade Johnson, commander of the Barnes Center.

Today, the Barnes Center acts as an umbrella covering the Air Force Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy, all NCO academies within the continental United States, Airman Leadership School curriculum, the Air Force First Sergeant Academy and the Community College of the Air Force. The college has awarded more than 322,000 associate and applied science degrees, making it the largest community college in the world. The Center assumed responsibility for all the organizations July 11.

"Our Airmen are doing incredible things out there every day," Chief McKinley said. "This did not happen by accident. It happened because we had leaders like Chief Barnes who recognized professional military education was important to the Air Force. I am honored and pleased that we are recognizing what this great leader has done, not only for the enlisted force, but for the Air Force and our country."

Chief Master Sgt. Ethel Pressley, director of operations for the Air Force Senior NCO Academy, attended the dedication ceremony and later reflected on meeting Chief Barnes when he visited the Air Force First Sergeant Academy during her tenure as a student.

"[The July 24] ceremony was a first-class event commemorating the legacy that CMSAF Barnes brought to the enlisted force and the Air Force as a whole," Sergeant Pressley said. "What's most significant to me is the doors [that have] been opened for women in the Air Force as a result of his advocating that we can hold more [Air Force Specialty Codes] than just personnel and admin."

Chief Barnes served as chief master sergeant of the Air Force beginning in October 1973 and retired in July 1977. The chief passed away in 2003.

Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Miller, Air University vice commander; Colonel Johnson; and Chief McKinley presented Chief Barnes' family members with a plaque commemorating the center.

Chief Barnes' two daughters attended the ceremony and said the opportunity allowed them to learn more about their father.

"We are honored to still be considered a part of the Air Force family," said Thyra Barnes. "It is amazing to us. They speak as though he was their father."

The designation of the Barnes Center was the final act in the Air University reorganization.

"We have been going through a major transformation here at Air University," General Miller said. "It is more than just simply about reorganization. It is more than just simply saying the words, 'the intellectual and leadership center of the Air Force'... We are taking enlisted PME to the next level."