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From handcuffs to command chief: Airman shares personal story, encouragement

Chief Master Sgt. Tony Jenkins, 621st Contingency Response Wing command chief, speaks to Airmen during an all call May 9, 2019, at Travis Air Force Base, California. During his visit, Jenkins discussed a variety of topics to include mentoring, promotions, fitness and deployments. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Liliana Moreno)

Chief Master Sgt. Tony Jenkins, 621st Contingency Response Wing command chief, speaks to Airmen during an all call May 9, 2019, at Travis Air Force Base, California. During his visit, Jenkins discussed a variety of topics to include mentoring, promotions, fitness and deployments. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Liliana Moreno)

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – What started out as a good deployment, quickly turned into a nightmare for then Senior Airman Tony Jenkins.

In the fall of 2000, Jenkins was deployed to Moron Air Base, Spain, as a maintainer on the KC-10 Extender aircraft with the 660th Generation Squadron out of Travis Air Force Base, California, when he was charged with drunk and disorderly conduct on the last night of his deployment.

Now a command chief master sergeant assigned to the 621st Contingency Response Wing, Jenkins reminisces of his troubled days and shares his motivation for pushing forward.

“That night, a few of us decided to go downtown to the fair in the city of Moron,” Jenkins said. “I did a lot of heavy drinking and later that evening I ended up getting into a fight. I don’t remember too much about it because I was heavily intoxicated. We caused a commotion and the police arrested us on the spot.”

His command was notified of the incident and he ended up staying in jail until the arraignment a couple of days later.

“Two of us were held back that night. Our plane left the next day, and our team redeployed home without us,” he said. “We were on international hold and we could not leave the country for another 30 days.”

During that time, the first sergeant for Moron, then Senior Master Sgt. Joseph Barron, took the Airmen into custody and made sure the Airmen were taken care of while undergoing court appearances and dealing with the repercussions of the incident.

“He didn’t treat us like outcasts and he tried to take care of us as much as possible while mentoring and motivating us along the way,” Jenkins said. “The Air Force, as in your supervisors, the people that work around you, your commanders, your first sergeants, they do truly care about helping you by taking good care of you and giving you the benefit of the doubt to ensure you are not treated like an outcast.”

Jenkins said the famous Mike Tyson quote, “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth,” resonates with his experience and outlook in life after the incident.

“I thought I had a plan,” he said. “But, that instance of me screwing up just completely threw my world for a loop. I said ‘oh crap, what am I going to do at this point?’ Thankfully, my leadership took care of me, helped me out and got me through it.”

Jenkins said prior to the incident he had never been in trouble and he is thankful the Air Force didn’t show him the door.

“If I was a subpar Airman up to that point, that would have been an easy instance to let me out of the military or deny my re-enlistment,” he said. “That was a mistake of judgment and character, but they didn’t kick me out because of it.

“That could have been a huge turning point in my career. Who knows where I’d be working if they didn’t keep me in the military at that point. I am thankful just knowing that they were supportive enough to give me another chance.”

In order to get through challenging situations, Jenkins believes individuals need to have the necessary tools to cope with the change. For him, it was fitness and a strong social network.

“Fitness is a huge stress reliever. It gives you time to clear your mind, while working out alone,” he said. “Having a good social network of friends inside and outside of the military was also very helpful.”

Finally, he said his first advice for Airmen will be for them not to get into any trouble. Airmen need to have a good foundation built over the years to help them weather the storm during difficult situations.  

“Build your credibility. It takes years to build up credibility, but you can lose it in an instance,” Jenkins said. “We are not a one mistake Air Force, but without credibility, you may not be given another opportunity to redeem yourself.”