Toolkit of life, military experience leads Reserve officer to combat readiness position

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Madelyn McCullough
  • 446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Life can pull people in many different directions, but who they are as individuals always seems to shine through each and every decision they make. It's a series of these decisions and experiences that leads people to where they are today. That's how one Reservist found himself in the position of 446th Airlift Wing chief of combat readiness.

Lt. Col. David Jeske has been in the wing since April 2012, and has ever since been doing his best to prepare the wing for a natural disaster, a deployment, or an attack.

"As the chief of combat readiness, what I see my job as, is how to keep everybody alive if they were to deploy," Jeske said. "My job is to best prepare the wing, or even just prepare advice to the wing commander, to keep everyone from harm as best we can."

As the only one in his position, he has the full weight of the wing resting on his shoulders, but throughout his life he's gathered what he calls a "toolbox" of experience that has prepared him to do a good job.

"Every deployment, every tour, every experience, should almost be like a tool that you put in a tool kit," he said. "The difference being of course when you go to Lowes or Home Depot to get a tool, you're putting out money. But the tool kit that you get as a military member or as an Air Force member, you pay for those tools with hard work, sweat, tears, pain, and blood. You've earned those tools."

Some tools, such as his desire to keep everyone safe, go way back to his childhood roots of growing up on a farm with his grandfather.

"We had all kind of animals," he said. "We had cows and pigs and chickens. You have to take care of your animals. I hated to see animals in pain and I hated to see animals hurt so I was the kid who was always trying to fix it. I always saw it in the military as you have sort of two choices. You can either inflict great harm or you can do great good. I always wanted to choose the path of doing great good, so I never considered being infantry or a fighter pilot because I only wanted to help, never harm."

With this goal in mind, Jeske joined the Navy as a combat rescue officer and a readiness officer and has had jobs as logistics readiness, squadron commander and plans and programs.

"I've continued to take jobs that focus on readiness because that's what I find interesting and exciting," he said. "It's my own version of taking care of people."

Other tools he's gathered that help him with readiness come from his tours in Korea, Pakistan, Kuwait, Diego Garcia, Djibouti, and his deployments to Afghanistan.

"One of our primary focuses (in the military) is how to protect ourselves from chemical threats, biological threats, and other nontraditional forms of attack," Jeske said. "Nowhere is that threat more pervasive than in Korea. So when you're stationed in Korea, you focus a lot on defense of chemical, biological, and nuclear threats. I'd like to think that I learned what I know about defending against that from those tours in Korea. On my deployments to Afghanistan, I didn't learn anything about chemical warfare defense. That came from Korea. But in Korea, we didn't have to really worry about IED threats. I learned that in Afghanistan."

Another experience from his toolbox that always reminds him of the important of readiness is when he had the distinction of going with a Navy chaplain to tell a family their son had been killed.

"I knew this young man and I felt a kindred responsibility to him," he said. "I had to try and figure out what to say that would be both comforting and explanatory at the same time. While the Navy prepares you in some ways, it can never truly prepare you for that moment. But what that moment teaches you is, 'What could I or what could we have done differently? How do we go forward preventing this from ever happening again?' That's what we owe parents and servicemen. We should be committed to doing all we can to make sure at the end of the day, all of our Airmen return to their families."

All of these life events led to him learning that he wanted to take care of people, how to take care of his people, and why it's important for him to take care of his people. Now, as chief of combat readiness, he gives his all to making sure the wing is always manned, trained, and equipped. Along with that, he also acts as a mentor to Airmen by sharing his experiences and giving them the tools they need to succeed.

Senior Airman Barrett Rayan, 446th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron medical technician, often visits Jeske to ask advice about some of the career goals he has in the Air Force.

"(Jeske) is definitely a role model," Rayan said. "He's very smart and he's willing to mentor people, willing to talk to people and he's very friendly and outgoing. He definitely has a lot of military experience that he's willing to pass down to pretty much anyone that shows an interest."

Even after 22 years in the military, Jeske still hopes to continue doing his part and to give something back, he says. This "do something" attitude is another reflection of his days growing up on a farm listening to his grandfather's goofy phrases.

Some of these quotes were, "If you don't have anything to do just jump up and down, but never stand still." Or "If you've got nothing to do for yourself, do something for somebody else." Or, "Doing nothing is hardly ever the answer."

Like his grandfather advised, Jeske has hardly spent his military career doing nothing.

"Ten years from now, when I'm talking to my daughter or grandkids and they ask 'Grandpa, what did you do during the war?' I want to be able to tell them that I've been to Afghanistan, Korea, and Diego Garcia. I want to tell them with pride what I did. I don't want to tell them I did nothing. My country needed me to deploy, so that's what I wanted to do. If not for the war, I'd be on the beach living it up, but that's not what my country needs."