New AFSOC command chief takes special route from Brooklyn to Hurlburt

Chief Master Sgt. Matthew Caruso, the eighth Air Force Special Operations Command command chief, responds to questions May 12, 2014, in his first interview as the "senior sergeant" for the command. He returned to Hurlburt Field for his new job after recent posts at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., and Bagram Air Base Afghanistan, and a tour in the Republic of Korea. (Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Steven Pearsall)

Chief Master Sgt. Matthew Caruso, the eighth Air Force Special Operations Command command chief, responds to questions May 12, 2014, in his first interview as the "senior sergeant" for the command. He returned to Hurlburt Field for his new job after recent posts at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., and Bagram Air Base Afghanistan, and a tour in the Republic of Korea. (Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Steven Pearsall)

Chief Master Sgt. Matthew Caruso, command chief for Air Force Special Operations Command, works out with several enlisted leaders May 13, 2014, at Hurlburt Field's Aderholt Fitness Center track.  The chief is passionate about physical fitness and focused on improving fitness test scores command-wide.  (Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Steven Pearsall)

Chief Master Sgt. Matthew Caruso, command chief for Air Force Special Operations Command, works out with several enlisted leaders May 13, 2014, at Hurlburt Field's Aderholt Fitness Center track. The chief is passionate about physical fitness and focused on improving fitness test scores command-wide. (Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Steven Pearsall)

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Matthew Caruso, Air Force Special
Operations Command command chief speaks to a group of Airmen at an open forum during his tour of the Airman Leadership School June 12, 2014, at Cannon Air Force
Base, N.M. Caruso made a point to interact with as many Cannon Air Commandos
as possible during his visit. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Chip
Slack)

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Matthew Caruso, Air Force Special Operations Command command chief speaks to a group of Airmen at an open forum during his tour of the Airman Leadership School June 12, 2014, at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M. Caruso made a point to interact with as many Cannon Air Commandos as possible during his visit. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Chip Slack)

Airmen attending the Cannon AFB Airman Leadership School invited Chief
Master Sgt. Matthew Caruso, Air Force Special Operations Command command chief, to their morning physical training session June 10, 2014.  PT is such a part of Caruso's routine, especially with his rigorous travel schedule, that he plans to work
out with Air Commandos around the world. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Chip Slack)

Airmen attending the Cannon AFB Airman Leadership School invited Chief Master Sgt. Matthew Caruso, Air Force Special Operations Command command chief, to their morning physical training session June 10, 2014. PT is such a part of Caruso's routine, especially with his rigorous travel schedule, that he plans to work out with Air Commandos around the world. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Chip Slack)

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- There's an air of grit and determination about the new command chief master sergeant for Air Force Special Operations Command.

Chief Master Sgt. Matthew Caruso took AFSOC's top enlisted seat April 25, 2014, after a nine-month assignment in Korea. Part of the Chief Caruso package delivered to the headquarters building was a past, present and future worthy of an Air Commando.

"I use two words to describe how I'm feeling these days - humbled and honored," Chief Caruso said. "I'm humbled by the fact that I would be asked to join the AFSOC leadership team to help lead the Airman of AFSOC, and to know that I stand in line with some great chief master sergeants who have sat in this seat before."

The Chief is an AFSOC headquarters returnee, previously serving three years as the Flight Engineer Functional Manager.

"Deep down inside I looked at the AFSOC command chief position as a goal of mine, because I admired what it represented and what AFSOC represents. I aspired to follow in the footsteps of previous AFSOC command chiefs. "

But it's the road map Chief Caruso followed that's interesting. After graduating from Babylon Junior-Senior High School on the outskirts of New York City, he qualified and worked for four years as an F-15 Eagle jet engine mechanic. Then, in search of a new challenge, the Chief cross-trained as a C-5 Galaxy flight engineer.

It was during this four-year hitch flying the largest aircraft in the U.S. Air Force fleet when he was involved in a very unique mission set at the time. Chief Caruso became the youngest and most junior flight engineer ever to be selected for the C-5 Special Operations Low Level (SOLL II) mission.

"So it's in the SOLL II where I got a taste for flying special operations mission and what the capability means to the nation," he said. "Once I learned that the Air Force has an entire command of Air Force special operators, I was sold and set out to find my way to AFSOC."

As a pre-requisite, Chief Caruso transferred, again, as a flight engineer into the "slick" C-130 Hercules community. He served honorably, fixed on his goal of flying special operations aircraft, until February 2002 when he joined the 9th Special Operations Squadron to fly MC-130P Combat Shadows.

"I took great pride in being a Shadow crew member from the day I arrived in the 9th SOS at Eglin," the five-year chief master sergeant said. "It's the grit, resiliency and keep-showing-up to be there for the team mentality of the Shadow crews that I take great pride in. I fit right in, with my history and how I was raised as a young airman in the engine shop -- 12 hours shifts, getting dirty, taking care of each other, and taking apart and building engines back up. It was a great work ethic and it transferred well into the Shadow and SOF culture."

As AFSOC's eighth command chief, Caruso is focused on being a servant leader by taking on such issues as physical fitness, on- and off-base housing for Airmen, and the AFSOC culture of quiet professionalism.

"If there's anything I'd like to contribute, it's being a great advisor to the commander on the health, morale and welfare of the people," he said.

His mission includes traveling around the command and deployed locations around the world to talk to and listen to Airmen performing the mission.

"People - some of my former commanders and supervisors -- will tell you that I'm known for fixing things," said the Brooklyn-raised senior NCO. "I'll do my research, build a team and then go get after it. I'm relentless, and I don't stop until I get the mission done."

The list of topics he's digging into from his hub at Hurlburt Field includes improving physical training across the command, creating an environment of dignity and respect among the 19,000 people assigned to AFSOC, understanding of the never-ending special operations commitments worldwide, innovation to improve how things are done and what tools or processes are used, and building an AFSOC-wide expectation that Airmen need to balance work with outside endeavors.

He is serious about his charge as the "senior sergeant" for the command, and shoulder's the task and the new job without reservations.

"I would never have considered turning it (the command chief position) down," he said. "It's AFSOC! I wouldn't want to be doing anything else."

So, over his 26-plus years of service he's accumulated a few Air Force Specialty Codes, 13 assignments in AFSOC elements at seven duty stations, all culminating in this position as command chief.

"I think in life, you find your niche if you keep looking for it," Chief Caruso said. "I like to think I found my 'family' in AFSOC."