Tinker Airman reflects on journey from enlisted to officer ranks

  • Published
  • By Brandice J. O'Brien
  • Tinker Public Affairs
Tinker changed his life, literally and figuratively.

Prior to his 964th Airborne Air Control Squadron assignment in 1999, Jason "JC" Henry was simply a senior airman fulfilling his enlistment obligation. At Tinker, someone took an interest in his career and something changed. The Airman soon pursued an education in hopes of one day becoming an officer.

Today, Captain Henry is assigned to the 448th Supply Chain Management Wing where he serves as an executive officer to the director, Steven Alsup, a member of the senior executive service.

"When I think back there were plenty of opportunities to give up, but it was determination that got me through," said Captain Henry. "I believe it was worth it. I became an officer to affect change in people's lives because that's what Matt Smith did for me and to this day, he's my biggest cheerleader."

Following his high school graduation in 1993, Captain Henry attended Pennsylvania State University where after a rough freshman year he decided to explore other options.

The 19-year-old walked into an Air Force recruiting office and signed up for the delayed enlisted program. In June 1995, after technical school, the Air Force sent the new Airman to Royal Air Force Station Lakenheath in England where he became an aircraft armament system specialist, or weapons loader, for the F-15E Strike Eagle.

After three years, Captain Henry cross-trained to become an enlisted flyer and arrived at Tinker's 964th AACS. He met then-Captain Smith, who encouraged the young senior airman to go to school.

"Education is everything. When you stop learning you stop living," said Col. Matt Smith, 505th Test and Evaluation Group commander at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. "It is absolutely critical to always keep your mind engaged and continuously try to become more skilled in life whether that is personally or professionally. It is also my opinion that the Air Force values education for all the right reasons."

Applying his Penn State credits and credits he earned from a class at Rose State College, Captain Henry earned his Community College of the Air Force degree later that year in 1999.

Captain Henry then applied his basic level course credits to pursue a bachelors' degree at Oklahoma State University. Accepted into what was known as the "Bootstrap" program, the newly promoted staff sergeant attended college full-time in lieu of work duties.

"He always knew he wanted a commission and we carefully planned and plotted his course, selecting his career field choices according to the Air Force needs," said Dr. Lola King, 72nd Force Support Squadron Education Services officer who served as a guidance counselor to Captain Henry when they met 15 years ago.

From January to May 2001, Captain Henry took a full load of courses primarily at Rose State or on-base at the Education Center.

"It was a great opportunity. My job was to go to school for five months to finish my undergraduate degree. In 16 weeks, I did 21 hours of undergraduate work," he said. "I'll never forget the five-week fast-track statistics class I took at Oklahoma City Community College. It only met five Saturdays.

"I don't know how I did it, I was working off-duty Friday and Saturday nights -- that was the best 'C' I ever got in my life," Captain Henry said. "That was extremely challenging doing several weeks of coursework in one day."

Upon graduation in May 2001, Captain Henry made a conscious decision to not apply for Officer Training School.

"I talked to my mentors and because I was in that 'school' mode, I rode right into my masters' program," Captain Henry said. "In May 2002, I got my masters' from Southeastern Oklahoma State University. I did 33 hours over a year."

It was a busy year. In that time, the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks happened and Captain Henry deployed.

With several degrees under his belt, Captain Henry applied to OTS in 2003, but twice was turned down. He believed his Air Force Officer Qualifying Test scores were too low. Captain Henry hadn't studied for the test and because the program was becoming more competitive, the captain knew he had to study, but questioned his path.

"I didn't know what to do. For three years, I had just done school," the captain said. "If I could do it differently, I probably would have focused on my Weighted Airman Promotion System testing for my next enlisted rank or taken a break at the semester's end. I was just so focused on school."

Now assigned to the 552nd Operations Support Squadron, Captain Henry put the AFOQT on hold and did what was natural to him - he pursued a second undergraduate degree at SEOSU.

The captain finished in May 2003 and while he wanted to apply again for Officer Training School and was studying for the qualifying test, a new opportunity came his way, putting him at a crossroads.

The captain, still a staff sergeant, had been assigned a new job at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., as a communication systems operator for distinguished visitor airlift on the C-37A Gulfstream V. If he took the assignment, he couldn't apply to OTS for an entire year. If he applied to OTS, he'd lose his assignment.

"It was like, 'OK, do I want to take that risk?'" the captain said. "I made the conscious decision and thought, 'Maybe I'm supposed to be a chief and stay enlisted.'"

Captain Henry accepted the assignment, believing everything happens for a reason.
After two years, Captain Henry left for one reason - he still wanted to apply for OTS. It was now 2005 and the newly promoted technical sergeant was ready. He had his paperwork in order and had studied for the test, but it was not meant to be. The boards were cancelled.

Devastated, Captain Henry said he thought about giving up, but, it wasn't in his nature.
"Most people would have given up after two rejections from the OTS selection committee. JC wouldn't think of it," said retired Col. Monty Perry, who was Captain Henry's commander when the two were stationed at MacDill AFB.

Shortly, thereafter the board met again. Captain Henry applied, but unlike previous attempts, he wasn't so wrapped up in the outcome. He was more nonchalant about the results, not yet knowing the cycle had been broken.

"I remember that day like it was yesterday," he said. "We had a morning roll call and then the commander, Colonel Perry, said, 'We're going to have a short-notice permanent change of station to Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.' I wondered who was leaving. He said I was picked up for Officer Training School. I was blown away. It was all this relief."

After sharing the news with his fiancée and mom, the tech sergeant packed his bags. Determined to succeed, he left for OTS in April 2006.

In July 2006, the newly commissioned second lieutenant began a new adventure with assignments in North Dakota, New Jersey and deployments to the Middle East. In July 2011, Captain Henry returned to Tinker for a Logistics Career Broadening Officer program where he further explored various components to the logistics career field.

"He is still the same person I met 11 years ago, although I believe he has lost more hair," said Bruno Morf, 566th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron director, who met Captain Henry when the two pursued a master's degree from SEOSU. "On a serious note, he is definitely more poised and professional and you can tell his selection to be a Career Broadening Officer has helped continue his development into the professional he is today. He is a true testimonial of if you want to be the best you can be, work hard and challenge yourself."

Recently, Captain Henry completed the program. He said he has gained a new respect for the Air Force's opportunities during his near 19-year career. Although his journey has been unconventional, it's been worth it. He encourages others to find their own paths and achieve success.

"For me the proudest moment of my career is when I was commissioned," he said. "My mom, who has since passed, was there for that. After all I had been through personally and professionally, and hearing 'no' so many times, it was the moment."

Captain Henry knows he didn't achieve success on his own and credits the folks who "pulled me along even when I was sometimes kicking, screaming and was out of my comfort zone."

Those he has met along the way are equally impressed by him and his story.
"JC seemed to collect college degrees like some people collect baseball cards," Colonel Perry said. "He made it look easy, all while excelling at his job and taking care of his family. He serves as a shining example to anyone thinking about a degree program, but who thinks they 'don't have time!' It's truly inspirational."
Colonel Smith agreed.

"JC Henry is the salt of the earth. If I were to build an Airman who embodied everything it means to be a warfighter, a decent human being, and a trustworthy friend for life-it would be him," he said. "He really is that good and I consider myself fortunate to be considered one of his mentors and don't take this responsibility lightly. The Air Force is a better service because of Airmen like him. I very much look forward to the day where we can serve side-by-side again."

But, he'll have to wait. Captain Henry is currently serving an assignment in the 448th SCMW and impressing his supervisor and the Air Force Sustainment Center.

"Captain Henry is an outstanding Airman," said Mr. Alsup. "He's tackled every challenge the Air Force has ever put in front of him and keeps coming back for more. We are very lucky to have him as a member of the 448th SCMW front office team."

In February, Captain Henry was recognized for his accomplishments within the AFSC and awarded Company Grade Officer of the Year when he served as a military deputy director for a squadron within the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex.

"In the time since I've known him, Jason has gone from a playful young Airman to a more serious and commanding young officer," said Dr. King. "Jason's success story is proof that the Air Force educational program measures up to its number one objective of 'providing voluntary educational opportunities to at least the master level in support of procurement, retention, and career-long individual growth.' He has been an inspiration to me and I'm proud of him and his accomplishments