Master Sgt. Joe Hamlett was about to drop his retirement paperwork but had a sudden change of heart.
Today, the Grandview resident is the state command chief master sergeant of the Missouri Air National Guard and a senior enlisted advisor to the Adjutant General.
Hamlett is a man on a mission to motivate junior Airmen to achieve more than they may think is possible.
Chief Master Sgt. Joseph E. Hamlett’s military career began in 1981, when he joined the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, first as a combat engineer, then as a water supply operator. In 1985, he joined the active duty Air Force, then transferred to the Air National Guard in 1993.
Fast-forward to 2005 and Hamlett was working as a dual-status military technician, as a turboprop mechanic in the engine shop of the 139th Airlift Wing, in St. Joseph. That year, he turned 40 and began pondering his future.
“The last 12 years of my life have been a whirlwind,” Hamlett said. “If you would have asked Tech. Sgt. Hamlett, in 2005, ‘What are you going to be when you grow up? Where are you going to end up?’ I would have had no answer – no clue – any of this was possible for me.”
He began to wonder if he would retire with a sense of accomplishment, whether or not he had given his all and gone as far as he could.
A switch flipped in his head.
His first step was to go back to school and earn his associate’s degree from the Community College of the Air Force.
“I wanted something more than just thinking about retirement at 60 and walking away,” Hamlett said.
The associate’s degree was initially to get a credential to validate his years of service before retirement. But when he entered the classroom, Hamlett began to think bigger and rethink his military and civilian careers.
“I hadn’t dreamed since I was 15 years old when I thought I would be an NBA superstar,” Hamlett said. “I stopped growing. I wasn’t going to be like Dr. J. (Julius Erving), my idol. I really had not dreamed anything, until I went back to school and saw the possibilities.”
After earning his associate’s degree, he kept going.
“Nine years later, almost to the day, I had a doctorate degree,” Hamlett said. “I go back to that day, that’s when I realized I controlled my own destiny. I realized I wanted more out of life and my military career. Almost 13 years later, I’m in the senior enlisted position in the state of Missouri. I just go back to that day, when I made that decision to change my attitude, my thought-process, my mindset, and to realize I could do more, and that I wanted to do more.”
This change was noticed by his co-workers as well.
“He had a change in confidence in himself when he was in school,” said Master Sgt. Douglas Duke, a propulsion work leader for the 139th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
“He’s always been approachable, volunteered for deployments and stepped up,” Duke said. “But he probably saw no light at the end of the tunnel.”
Career progression can be a challenge in the Air National Guard, especially for full-time personnel. A benefit of the Guard is having highly experienced technicians, but those seeking to lead at higher levels may face hurdles.
During the earlier period, Hamlett received crucial advice from a trusted colleague and gave up his full-time technician position and returned to serving as a traditional, part-time drill status Guardsman.
This decision gave Hamlett opportunities to grow in his military and civilian careers.
He became a department supervisor and senior leader in the civilian sector and became a quality assurance inspector in the maintenance group, then first sergeant, wing first sergeant then group superintendent at the 139th Airlift Wing before assuming his current duties in August 2017.
Hamlett’s higher education focus has been on business administration and organizational leadership, but he values the experience even more than the coursework.
“It’s not about the actual degree you’re earning. It’s not about the skills you’re trying to acquire. It’s about opening your mind to the possibilities,” Hamlett said. “To me, that’s what education is. It’s allowing you to see things from a different viewpoint, and not being so closed-minded or narrow-minded in your approach to things. That’s what education did for me. It opened up my mind to all the things that are out there.”
In addition to his command chief duties, Hamlett is now an author, part-time college professor, and a small business owner focused on leadership development and consulting.
He encourages young and old alike to never give up but said it may not be easy.
“It’s not too late. The oldest person earning a doctorate in our class was 76 years old,” Hamlett said. “You’ll have roadblocks, barriers, things in your way, obstacles, but you still control your destiny.”
His words of encouragement to those pondering their own dreams are, “Why not?” Everyone has the ability to achieve extraordinary results.
“It may take you a little longer to get where you want to go, but you can still get there,” Hamlett said.
As state command chief, Hamlett advises the Adjutant General on all matters affecting the readiness, training and professional development of all enlisted members of the Missouri Air National Guard. His vision for the enlisted force is clear: Be committed and disciplined enough to do the right things.
Hamlett tells Airmen there are no limits.
“It’s about getting out of your comfort-zone,” he said. “You’ve already proven that by joining the military. You’ve already separated yourself from 99 percent of the entire population in the U.S. You’ve already said, ‘I’m willing to sacrifice myself for you, someone I don’t even know.’ To me, you’ve already clearly identified yourself as someone special. You’ve clearly separated yourself from your peers.”