A 28-year career in the U.S. Air Force is over.

Now, Chief Master Sgt. Brian Stanford finds himself faced with a perplexing question: what to do next.

Throughout his time in the military, he had served in a myriad of roles and responsibilities. He had been given assignments at the squadron wing, major command and joint level, stationed at bases from Alaska to Florida to California. Overseas assignments included time in Germany, as well as in the Middle East in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

But through it all, one common thread defined his time in the Air Force — helping other people.

“What drove me and kept me going was the drive to help people. Taking care of people is my passion, and what motivates me and kept me in (the Air Force),” he said.

Stafford is celebrating nearly three decades of military service, all while preparing for the next adventure in his life. He’s retiring as command chief master sergeant of the Air Force Test Center, the epicenter of aviation innovation in the United States.

Though his career, he not only served his country and helped defend it, but also made an impact on those he led.

“Whether it was with a career challenge or a personal challenge, when they’re stuck and not able to make traction, I can step in and assist, to help them out,” he said.

A 1994 graduate of Greenwood Community High School, Stafford had discovered a passion for aviation at a young age. His family would attend area air shows, and he’d be enthralled with the different kinds of flying machines.

The Staffords lived near the Greenwood Airport during his youth, and he’d watch the planes come and go during the day.

“There was always aircraft in the sky, so it just naturally led me towards the Air Force,” he said.

Stafford enlisted in 1994, at a time when the world was a different place. The Cold War had just ended, and the United States was free of any wars or immediate conflict.

“It was about travel, educational opportunities vs. the state of affairs we see in the world in the last two decades,” he said.

Initially, he was an aircraft maintainer working on F-15 fighter jets. An opportunity to transition into commander control — jobs that entailed emergency management and disaster recovery — arose and he grasped it.

In this new role, he felt that he had finally become a member of the Air Force.

“I enlisted in ‘94, but don’t think I really joined, where it became a part of me, in my blood, until that three year point,” he said.

Throughout his career, Stafford moved through a variety of different assignments and jobs. For four years, he was stationed at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany. His career has also taken him to Diego Garcia, a tiny British territory in the Indian Ocean. Along the way, he’s served in Qatar, Iraq, Panama and Turkmenistan.

He served as the senior enlisted leader for the National Airborne Operation Center, flying around the world to support the Secretary of Defense and presidential missions, working with numerous senior government officials.

“Every job had a different flavor to it, the opportunities it presented to me,” he said. “I was never one to go and need to be the chief master sergeant. I was more about doing my job to the best of my ability and working hard, then the rewards would come to me.”

He credits that mentality to his upbringing in Greenwood.

“One thing I really enjoyed about growing up in this community. Obviously from my parents, I got a lot of my character and attributes, but being from a small town in the Indianapolis area, I got a sense of respect for everybody,” he said. “I got that from being around and the family and friends we had. The community played a big part in that.”

In 2020, Stafford became command chief master sergeant at the Air Force Test Center. The facility, located at Edwards Air Force Base in California, focuses on conducting research, developmental test and evaluation of air, ground, space and cyber systems. With those tests, officials can provide timely, objective and accurate information to those who make decisions on national defense.

That mission is encompassed in its motto: “Forging our nation’s sword and shield.”

“Having this passion for aviation, and to go where the early days of aviation started. The first jet aircraft was developed at Edwards Air Force Base. To be part of that community was unique,” he said.

As a high-level military official, Stafford was able to work with others on aspects such as professional development and helping people transition from assignment to assignment smoothly.

“It wasn’t about the technical ability, it was about my ability to lead teams and influence people and motivate people to achieve their best,” he said. “That was my favorite part — helping people.

Now that he’s retired, Stafford and his family are settling into the next phase of their lives. They are building a home in Bargersville, where they’ll put down roots after years of serving throughout the world. Stafford will also be able to be near his grandsons, who live locally, and watch them grow up. That prospect is exciting, he said.

Stafford is in the process of finding his next mission in life. Though he’s unsure exactly what that looks like, he hopes that he can employ the skills he honed in the Air Force to continue assisting others.

“Just getting back into the people business, I think that’s my passion. I’d really love an opportunity to help companies or a business connect better with their people,” he said. ”I want to make a difference not just for the business, but in people’s lives.”