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High-flying career: Craig von Holdt reaches top enlisted rank during 26 years in Air Force

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- "Demonstrated exceptional ability and initiative."

"... a valuable asset to the Aircraft Generation Branch."

"... willingly accepts responsibility above his pay grade without hesitation."

"... an outstanding leader and technician."

" ... the epitome of an NCO and sets an outstanding example for all."

Those are just a few of the comments that were made about Air Force Chief Master Sergeant Craig von Holdt during his recent retirement ceremony at Edwards Air Force Base. Although he's quick to pass along credit for his achievements to others, von Holdt appreciates the words that were quoted from his performance reviews.

"I thought the ceremony they did when they passed the flag through each rank that I had achieved and read a little blurb out of my performance reports at each rank -- that will always stick with me," he reflected about the ceremony.

The son of Dayle and Twylla von Holdt of Worthington and a 1980 graduate of Round Lake High School, von Holdt has spent 26 years in the Air Force. He was enticed into the service by the training opportunity and has never regretted his decision.

"An Air Force recruiter came to our school in Round Lake, and a classmate and I, Bruce Eures, we thought we'd go down and see what they had to offer," recalled von Holdt. "My dad was an auto mechanic all his life, so I grew up in the mechanical field. I had asked the recruiter what kind of mechanical fields there were, and he'd mentioned being a mechanic on a fighter aircraft. When he said he could do that for me, make me a mechanic on a fighter aircraft, I was sold."

The recruiter also told the students that a unit -- the Coyote Flight -- was being formed from all the area recruits, so von Holdt and his buddy would be able to attend basic training together. They attended basic in San Antonio, Texas, and von Holdt went on to technical school at Shepard Air Force Base in Wichita, Texas, training to work on F-106 fighter aircraft. He received his first choice in duty assignment -- in Minot, N.D.

"I was still going with my high school sweetheart at the time, and I wanted to be close yet and keep that going," he explained about his choice. "Not too many people wanted to go to Minot, but I loved it there. That was a great assignment."

He married that sweetheart -- Elise Anderson, daughter of Russell and Betty Anderson of Round Lake -- in 1982, while still in Minot. In 1984, he received orders to Germany.

"The same day I came home and said I had orders to Spangdahlem, she came home and said she was pregnant," recalled von Holdt.

The von Holdts had two daughters -- Rachel, 22, who is married to a military member stationed in Las Vegas; and Sarah, 18, a student at the University of Alaska, Anchorage.

After four years in Germany, von Holdt was hand-picked to work in quality assurance, an area in which he received extensive experience and would later return to upon making Chief Master Sergeant. He eventually received his dream assignment -- running his own Aircraft Maintenance Unit, the 90th AMU, the same unit he had helped build earlier in his career.

During his career, von Holdt counts eight assignments at seven bases, returning twice to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska. When he decided to join the Air Force, von Holdt knew it was for the long haul.

"I had always planned on 20 years, and when I got to my 20, I hadn't made chief yet, and that was my ultimate goal, to make chief master sergeant. I had been real close, so I decided to see if I can make that, and that's what took me to my 26 years."

As evidenced by the comments from his performance reports, von Holdt consistently was given the highest marks possible on his performance reviews and climbed the ranks quickly until he finally reached that goal of chief master sergeant -- the highest rank enlisted personnel can attain. Only 1 percent achieve the rank.

"I think it was just being surrounded by a great bunch of people who were always very hardworking, very professional and successful themselves," reflected von Holdt about his successful military career. "I definitely didn't get this far by myself. I had a lot of help along the way. ... I think that's what served me well -- taking care of people and they'll take care of you. I was told that I was a very approachable person that they could come and talk to. I was told that on several occasions, that they like working for me, they always knew where they stood with me because I had high expectations."

Of his assignments, von Holdt and his family enjoyed Alaska the best, and returned there a second time when he was given a choice of duties.

"We loved the weather up there," he said. "The summers were beautiful, and the winters were even nice, although they're a little long. But the scenery was just gorgeous, and it's really just a good place to raise your kids. There are a lot of people who want to get up there who just don't get the opportunity to go."

During the retirement ceremony, the role of the Air Force wife was honored, and Elise von Holdt was presented with a certificate of appreciation from the Air Force.

"She was always there, taking care of the homestead, so I didn't have to worry about that," praised von Holdt.

The ceremony has already taken place, but von Holdt's official retirement date isn't until July 1. At that time, he and Elise have made plans to move back to the Midwest, settling in Papillion, Neb.

"I'm going to be a resident manager in Omaha there for 181 units with Seldin Co.," he explained. "They lease out commercial properties and residential properties, and I'm going to be on the residential side. I'm getting away from airplanes, going to try something different, broaden my horizons.

The Nebraska locale allows the von Holdts to be closer to family while also having access to the military benefits to which he's entitled at nearby Offutt AFB.

von Holdt is looking forward to the new challenges that will come with civilian life, even though he will miss the military and the many people he worked with over the years. But he plans to tackle the new challenges with the same resolve that carried him through his military career.

"I've always had a good work ethic," he said. "My philosophy was, no matter what job you're given, to do the best you can at the job. Some of those jobs are not always the ones you want, but if I had to go out and sweep the hangar floor, I was going to be the best floor sweeper they'd ever seen. That seemed to serve me well throughout my career."

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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