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From Civil Air Patrol to Command Chief

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Juliet Louden
  • 910th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Earning the rank of Chief Master Sgt. is a competitive process accomplished by a small percentage of enlisted Airmen. To Jennifer McKendree, the idea of becoming a chief seemed completely unattainable.

As a teenager, McKendree joined the Civil Air Patrol at Alliance High School in Ohio and went on to earn the Billy Mitchell Award, which is considered one of the highest accolades in the program. Over 30 years later, McKendree became what she never thought she would, a chief.

Chief Master Sgt. Jennifer McKendree, the 910th Airlift Wing command chief, serves as the senior enlisted advisor at Youngstown Air Reserve Station. She advises the commander on matters concerning the health, morale and welfare of Airmen on the installation. Serving the Airmen is an aspect of the job McKendree takes to heart.   

“This role is a great opportunity to serve our Airmen and positively impact their careers,” said McKendree. “My main focus is to help further the development of our enlisted leaders through leadership symposiums, one-on-one mentoring and providing the support and tools that are necessary to be successful.”

McKendree has been assigned to YARS for her entire career of more than 30 years so far. During her time at the installation, she’s learned the strategy and heart it takes to become a chief.

“Throughout my career, I navigated through various career fields,” said McKendree. “I never stayed stagnant in one role. Every Air Force Specialty Code has different areas where you can gain experience and knowledge in how areas are interrelated and impact one another. Understanding these dynamics helps you become a better leader.”

McKendree also emphasizes the importance of building positive relationships with Airmen, even in the early stages of one’s military career.

“Overall, building trust helps you build relationships and know they can come to you for support,” said McKendree. “Do what you say you are going to do, follow through on what you say you will do.”

McKendree believes a significant part of her overall success is having a great military mentor to help guide, support and empower her. For McKendree, Chief Master Sgt. Mary Julian, who retired in 2012 after a 33-year career with the Air Force Reserve and passed away in 2020, was the biggest mentor who positively impacted her confidence to become a great leader.

“It is important to have mentors in your career that will help you,” said McKendree. “Chief Mary Julian took me to meetings far beyond my rank. In my mind, I wondered what was the point of me being in this meeting as a Staff Sgt., but those meetings prepared me for later

She believed in me, encouraged me, helped me navigate my career with guidance from her military experiences.”

Mentorship came full circle for McKendree when Chief Julian’s son, now Lt. Col. Scott Julian, joined the 910th AW.

“I have known Chief McKendree since she worked for my mom over 20 years ago,” said Julian. “I got to see her quickly progress throughout the years in several positions, and in each one, she excelled.”

Lt. Col. Julian understood why McKendree would view his mother as the most positive and influential person in her military career.

“My mom was the most caring and compassionate person,” said Julian. “She loved to help people. She would never let anyone go without getting the help they needed.”

As Lt. Col. Julian’s career progressed, he looked to McKendree for guidance when he became commander of the 910th AW Force Support Squadron in 2015.

“I had a tough transition to FSS because I had been out of that career field for a long time,” explained Julian. “I relied on her (McKendree) heavily as a sounding board and could not have been successful in my command there without her. I jokingly called her my commander, because she was so helpful and had excellent control over what was happening in the squadron.”

Former 910th AW Command Chief, Chief Master Sgt. Chris Williams, also worked with McKendree during his time here and she was one of his key trusted advisors.

“Chief McKendree has a wonderful memory, understands complicated policy, spoke with authority and candidly advised me so I could advise the commander,” said Williams. “She didn’t know it, but she was already operating at command chief level long before she pinned on the rank.”

McKendree felt Williams helped in her gaining confidence to become a chief.

“People will see something in you that you don’t see in yourself,” said McKendree. “Chief Williams saw a future chief in me.”

McKendree can dedicate more time to her role as chief due to the position changing from a traditional reservist to full-time.

“I can 100 percent focus on my role as chief,” said McKendree. “Airmen now have access to me on a day-to-day basis. I have more availability and can make a bigger impact.”

For McKendree, the road to chief was paved through hard work, never staying stagnant, gaining knowledge of various AFSCs, caring about others and earning the trust of Airmen through keeping your promise of what you say you will do.