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​Enlisted leaders should never discourage fellow enlisted airmen from pursuing a commission if that is their goal, several former chief master sergeants said Wednesday. “You have to realize, as a leader, people are going to ask you questions along the way, career advice and things like that, and it’s very important what you say to them, because it may be the fork in the road that you’re going to take,” retired CMSAF Eric Benken said during the enlisted heritage panel at ASC15. He noted that he had been one day away from leaving the Air Force, in 1974, when a chief convinced him to stay, and he later had a similar conversation with an enlisted airman who was planning to leave but ended up getting commissioned. “Just a simple conversation can be very life changing,” he said. Retired CMSAF Gerald Murray said he was surprised when one of last year’s outstanding airmen of the year approached him this week and noted that they had been discouraged from seeking a commission. “I said, ‘I thought we were so far beyond that,’” Murray said. “I would hope that there’s not a single person in this room, especially if you’re wearing stripes, that would ever, in any way, discourage another enlisted member, or anyone, from pursuing a commission or whatever their goals may be,” he said. Murray also said he was surprised that the outstanding airmen of the year are required to serve an additional year in the enlisted ranks before seeking a commission.