Chief Jennings retires after 30 years of service

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Heather Heiney
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
Although the impact of a 30-year career could never be compressed into any form that would do it justice, the retiring 81st Mission Support Group superintendent created a reminder of his time in the Air Force that he can carry in his pocket.

The small, pewter-colored coin is inscribed with the words Chief Master Sergeant Curtis A. Jennings; 30 years of dedicated service; integrity, service, excellence and In God I trust. The symbols that decorate the coin include the enlisted rank insignia as he wore them, shields of the eight commands that he served, the civil engineering occupational badge, his signature and a set of dumbbells. Each detail was carefully placed to represent an important aspect of his service.

Jennings grew up in Washington D.C. and since he joined the Air Force in 1982, he has completed 12 assignments and six deployments. Some of his duty stations include Air Force and Navy bases across the world with locations such as Egypt, Sicily, North Africa, Turkey, Germany, Korea and Iraq.

"My deployments were a lot different than the ones I hear about today," the chief said.

The chief said he completed nearly 5,000 miles of convoy operations on resupply and construction missions. He said that there was a lot of devastation in the areas to which he deployed to and his team felt vulnerable because they weren't inside or outside the wire.

"We were actually building the wire," Jennings said. "We were knee deep in the Iraq desert. It was frightening -- I did a lot of praying."

He began his career as a carpenter in the civil engineering structures career field and has also held positions as an interim first sergeant, civil engineer school superintendent, convoy commander with the Navy Seabees and interim command chief for the 81st Training Wing.

"A lot of people ask me, 'How do you make chief?'" Jennings said. "My answer --- work hard."

He said that if you work hard, leadership will recognize what you've done and you will rise to the top among your peers. The first step is to take responsibility of your charge and treat tasks with ownership.

He said that if he's learned anything in his career, it's, "It is not about you, it's about the mission."

Col. Rodney Berk, 81st MSG commander, said that one of the chief's philosophies is to never walk past a problem. He will stop and correct an Airman or stop and pick up trash if he sees it.

"Chief Jennings, with 30 years of experience, is probably one of the most inspirational and enthusiastic leaders I've ever worked with," the colonel said.

Berk said that the chief makes a difference to every Airman with whom he interacts and has made a personal impact on thousands of Airmen. He also said the chief fell in love with the Air Force and sacrifices his personal life for that passion.

"He even says he's married to the Air Force," Berk said.

Jennings said that of all the places he's been, the people at Keesler have the most dedication and enthusiasm he's ever seen and that they truly want to make a difference.

"The bulk of people here are locked, cocked and ready to rock. I'd go to war with them any day," Jennings said, "What a phenomenal way to culminate a career than to work with people who truly give a damn."

Berk said that the chief made a significant contribution to the base's third place finish in the 2011 Commander In Chief's Annual Award for Installation Excellence competition because he inspired and motivated Airmen to reach that level.

"Chief Jennings is one of the most dedicated Airman I've ever had the pleasure to serve with," said Chief Master Sgt. Glen Usherwood, 81st Training Group superintendent. "I'm absolutely convinced that if you cut him, he would bleed blue.

"A true 'people's chief,' he takes care of his folks and isn't afraid to square them away when they need it," he added. "I will miss working with him."

"Chief Jennings completely represents what the United States Air Force is all about. Through my three years of service, I have tried to live up to his inspiration. It has been an honor to serve with the chief," said Airman 1st Class Jake Denslow, 81st Logistics Readiness Squadron.

The chief said his immediate plans are to spend time catching up with his adult sons, David, 22, and Spencer, 24, who live in Pensacola, Fla., lift some heavy weights, do some traveling and work on a personal life.

"I look at my beginning and where I am now and the Air Force has been a vessel for all that," Jennings said. "Ultimately, I want to allow myself to be led by God and be a good student to His guidance."

"If he could stay in, he would, and we would love to have him," Berk said.