Face of Defense: Air Guard NCO Leads With Competitive Spirit

By Army Sgt. Wesley Parrell Arizona National Guard


PHOENIX, March 1, 2016 — Teamwork and a competitive spirit are the driving forces of a world-class organization at the top of its game.

Arizona Air National Guard Senior Master Sgt. Fred “Wes” Hudgins, who was the 2012 top first sergeant for the National Guard, said he draws from his success and experience in auto racing to keep the organization running like a “well-oiled machine.”

Just like a high performance engine, the Arizona National Guard has many moving parts that must be tuned and properly aligned to fire on all cylinders. For Hudgins, whose earliest childhood memories are of his dad and uncle working on race cars, understanding this leadership philosophy comes naturally.

“I spent hours learning the ins and outs of high performance engines,” he said. “We would fine-tune the engine to get as much power out of the car as possible. Our focused efforts had one common goal, to be the best and fastest on the track.”

In high school, Hudgins’ competitive spirit made him a three-sport athlete: football, basketball and track. After graduation, he made his first attempt at a college education.

“I was fortunate that I had the opportunity to attend college after high school,” Hudgins said. “It was the first time in my life that I was not participating in an organized sport and was missing the teamwork and camaraderie. I really didn’t place as much effort on my education as I should have and just needed to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.”

Air Force Career

After speaking with a few friends who had joined the military right out of high school, he began to research his options as a future service member. In 1986, he enlisted in the active-duty Air Force as a T-38 Talon crew chief.

“I spoke to an Air Force recruiter and immediately I was hooked,” Hudgins said. “I was joining a world-class team, and I was going to be working on an aircraft with a supersonic jet engine.”

After five years of active duty, he began working for the state of Arizona and enlisted in the Arizona Air National Guard, joining the 161st Air Refueling Wing. Hudgins went back to school, earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration. In 2005 he completed his master’s in organizational management.

“The National Guard provided me an opportunity to serve my county while pursuing my personal goals as well,” he said. “I was able to continue my pursuit of a higher education and I began competitive racing again.”

Hudgins’ love for racing never died. He built a heads-up late ’80s model 1,400 horsepower, nitrous oxide-injected Ford Mustang and began drag racing across the country. For more than 20 years Hudgins was in the top of his field and his drag racing car was featured in Muscle Mustangs and Fast Fords magazines as one of the top 10 Mustangs in the country.

“I have always been a competitive person and try to give 100 percent to everybody who relies on me,” he said. “I push the airmen who serve with me to be the best they can be. Young airmen need to understand that no matter what your status, you need to be ready to go at a moment’s notice because you’ll never know when an opportunity will be afforded to you.”

In 2011, Hudgins retired from his civilian law enforcement position with the state of Arizona and now works full time as the personnel superintendent for the Arizona Air National Guard’s Joint Force Headquarters

He said any success he’s had can be attributed to having great leaders. “It is important to seek out people doing positive things and look for mentors in your career field,” Hudgins said. “Mimicking those types of people will always lead to success.”