By Liz Verley, Staff Writer
In November 2011, Chief Master Sergeant Denise Jelinski-Hall celebrated her 27th year as a member of the Armed Forces. She began her career when she joined the United States Air Force. After 2 1/2 years she transferred into the Air National Guard. Throughout that time she has received many awards and at the present time is the senior enlisted leader for the National Guard Bureau in Washington D.C. Prior to this assignment, she was stationed in Hawaii for 20 years.
Her current responsibilities include advising the Chief of the National Guard Bureau on all enlisted matters affecting training and utilization, health of the force and enlisted professional development of more than 460,000 National Guard soldiers and airmen.
Jelinski-Hall is a 1978 graduate of Little Falls Community High School.
Her parents, Betty and Willie Jelinski, proudly said, “She has made this journey all on her own with the support of her family.”
Betty said, “She has achieved so much, She started out working at the First Bank in Little Falls and was selected as the Chamber of Commerce’s first Employee of the Month in 1983. From there she just kept on going.”
Willie said, “I feel great about how much she has accomplished. I am so proud.”
Describing a normal day in her life, Jelinski-Hall said, “No two days are the same. Every day starts at 04:15, I’m in the office by 06:30. A typical Monday will start with checking my e-mail inbox. Then, I attend the Chief of the National Guard Bureau’s (CNGB) staff meeting with National Guard Army, Air and Joint Staff senior leadership.
“I spend a great deal of time collaborating with senior enlisted leaders (primarily with the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force and National Guard (Army and Air) on matters that affect the enlisted corps or their families. Periodically I have worked closely with the senior enlisted leaders of the Marine Corps, Navy and Coast Guard as well. They are all incredibly talented and dedicated leaders and I am honored to work alongside them,” she said.
“Throughout the day, there are other meetings to attend, various appointments or perhaps I’ll spend the afternoon on the Hill meeting with senators, congressmen or their military liaison assistant,” said Jelinski-Hall.
Her duties find Jelinski- Hall traveling extensively. She visits with National Guard soldiers and airmen in locations like Egypt, Israel, Kosovo, Germany and all 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia. She routinely speaks at various venues, public events and attends conferences.
“My primary focus is to support the priorities of the Chief of the National Guard and to represent the enlisted soldiers and airmen,” said Jelinski-Hall. “I spend a good deal of time engaged with the resilience of our Citizen Guardsmen. It is all about ensuring they have what they need in terms of resources, training and knowing what resources are available to them. After 10 years of war, we have some challenges; one of my priorities is to speak wherever I can and to help foster a culture ‘that it’s OK to seek help when you need it.’ It takes a brave and courageous service member to ask for help. This has to be the norm!”
She added, “There are no set duty hours. The days are long and busy … but serving is extremely rewarding to me. It’s a privilege to walk in and out of the Pentagon every day and to occasionally sit in the same room as the civilian and military leaders that are making the decisions that impact our country.”
She gets back to Minnesota to visit family and friends about twice per year.
“In my travels, if I’m close to Minnesota I try to work in a visit. It’s important to get back and visit my parents and brothers and sisters,” she said.
Jelinski-Hall grew up on the family farm outside of Little Falls.
“Dad worked at Larson Boats and was a member of the Minnesota Army National Guard. He retired as a Chief Warrant Officer Two (CW2). For most of our childhood, Mom was a traditional housewife. She was there when we got home from school and helped with homework as needed. She took pride in her flower beds and garden. Our parents raised us with a strong faith and a foundation of values. Values like honesty, perseverance, working hard for everything, living by the golden rule, trust and being self reliant,” she said.
“When we got home from school we put on work clothes because there was always work to be done. Picking rock, making hay, mowing the yard, weeding the garden, canning and fixing fences were just part of everyday life. The boys took care of feeding the farm animals and the girls helped with the laundry and household chores. After chores were done, we did typical kid things. One of my fondest memories is playing music together as a family” she said.
“It was through learning a strong work ethic and working together that all six of my brothers and sisters have been very successful in their own right,” she said.
“My parents believed that you worked hard Monday through Saturday and on Sunday you rested. We (my parents) have a lake home and if we got the hay in and the farm chores done we were able to go to the lake on the weekend. I enjoyed those days very much,” said Jelinski-Hall.
Some special memories include giving thanks before and after meals, having meals as a family, saying prayers at night, and “working on the farm because you were part of the family and it was expected. There was no allowance or having to be told twice to get your work done.”
Jelinski-Hall’s brother Jeff, said, “Ever since Bug (Denise) joined the Air Force she has strived and worked toward excellence. Although she didn’t care too much for picking rocks, there is no doubt it’s the work ethic she was brought up with that has helped her get where she is.”
He said, “A year or so ago my wife Barb and I were able to attend an Airmen of the Year ceremony at Andrews AFB where the Command Chief spoke. It was quite an honor to hear my sister speak in the presence of her boss Four-Star General Craig R. McKinley, a Three Star and I believe a Two- Star General along with the other military personnel present.”
She added, “We were fortunate to have grown up in an era when values meant something. When your word was your bond and a handshake sealed the deal. It’s that strong foundation of faith, family and values that have been a bedrock for me throughout my career. I have my parents and grandparents to thank for that.”
Cheryl Waltman, longtime friend, said, “Denise and I have been friends since we were about three or four years old. We lived about a half of a mile from each other and wore a path out in the road traveling to and from each other’s houses. Our first five years of education were at a one-room country school. Denise refers to them as ‘the Little House on the Prairie years.’”
Waltman said, “Denise was always the first in line to try something new or to challenge herself. She was always trying out for something, joining an organization or running for student council. One day she talked me into going to a recruiting office with her when we were seniors in high school ‘just to check it out.’ It wasn’t for me, but she was definitely interested so it really didn’t surprise me when she told me that she was joining the Air Force.
“I am extremely proud of her accomplishments. I always knew that she had the drive and determination to accomplish big things in her life. She has a ‘can do’ attitude and has the talent of passing that attitude along to the people that surround her,” said Waltman.
“I spent a couple of weeks with Denise in Hawaii right before she moved to Washington D.C. I went to a few of her going away ceremonies and it was very evident that she was well-respected and appreciated by the people that she worked with,” Waltman said.
As anyone who as served in the military will attest to, there are good times and bad. Jelinski-Hall said, “My favorite times include the honor and privilege of serving my country every day; making a difference in the life of a National Guard soldier, airman or family member.”
One memorable experience occurred while she was deployed to the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) in Al Udied, Qatar.
“I had the opportunity to fly to the USS John C. Stennis (a Navy ship) to brief the incoming Admiral of the Task Group and the pilots on the combat airspace in Iraq, Afghanistan and the horn of Africa. We flew in a C-2 (a turbo prop Navy airplane)and landed onboard the flight deck. We ‘took the hook’ on the Stennis, stayed the night and then catapulted off the Stennis the next day — it was a real rush,” she said.
The worst experience she faces is, “Receiving and reading the death notifications of the National Guard soldiers and airmen that gave their last full measure of devotion to duty,” she said. “The non-combat related deaths are equally as difficult,” she said.
Plans are to retire in 2013 and to make a home in Colorado, a mid-point between Midwest relatives and kids and grandkids in California.
“After settling in, I plan on going to school full-time to finish my bachelor of arts degree in business. Eventually, I plan to get back in the Department of Defense system,” she said. “We are in the beginning stages of building a home in Monument, Colo. After 20 years in Hawaii, I need to be somewhere where there is a lot of outdoor activity.”
Jelinski-Hall and her husband Gary Hall will celebrate their 25th anniversary in February.
Hall is a 20-year veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He currently serves as the director of business development and military sales for Immediate Response Technologies. They manufacture rapidly deployable decontamination and emergency response shelters, powered air purifying respirators and other equipment for military and civilian first responders, law enforcement and hospitals.
“We are a blended family. Gary and I have one daughter together, Ashley. She is a graduate of Cal State University in San Bernardino, Calif. She currently lives with us and will most likely relocate to Colorado. I also have three terrific stepchildren, Nikki, Nathan and Neili. They have blessed us with four wonderful grandkids, Andrew, Shannon, Aylssa and Austin. They all live in southern California,” said Jelinski-Hall.
“Family is key to a successful military career. Gary and Ashley have been very supportive through my crazy schedule, deployments, travel and attending events. They are experts in taking care of the home front,” she said.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the National Guard has been an operational force.
“Our young men and women sign up knowing full well that we are a nation at war and that they will be going to the fight. Yet, they continue to do so with a willingness to serve,” said Jelinski-Hall. “They are patriotic, dedicated and courageous. I’m so very proud of our enlisted soldiers and airmen. We have the best trained, most highly educated and experienced force in the entire history of the National Guard. Many times a National Guard member is called ‘twice the citizen,’ meaning, they bring both their civilian and military skills to the fight. They are citizens in peace and soldiers/airmen when called to state or federal service. For 375 years (Dec. 13th, 1636), the citizen soldiers and airmen of the National Guard have stood strong and defended the homeland. When asked, they have and continue to deploy to the four corners of the world in defense of freedom. Americans can sleep safe knowing that the guardians of freedom are on watch in every state, territory and the District of Columbia, Always There —Always Ready.”
Jelinski-Hall’s awards, accomplishments
Chief Master Sergeant Denise M. Jelinski-Hall is the Senior Enlisted Leader for the National Guard Bureau. In this position her responsibilities include advising the Chief of the National Guard Bureau on all enlisted matters affecting training and utilization, health of the force, and enlisted professional development of National Guard soldiers and airmen.
Throughout her career she has received many awards, decorations and promotions. These include: Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Air Force Commendation, Medal, Air Force Achievement Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with two oak leaf clusters, Air Force Organizational Excellence Award, Air Force Reserve Meritorious Service Medal with six oak leaf clusters, Air Force Recognition Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal with one star, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal, Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal, Air Force Expeditionary Service Ribbon with gold frame, Air Force Longevity Service Award with five oak leaf clusters.
Other accomplishments include: Air Traffic Controller of the Year, Hawaii Air National Guard (1992); Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year, 297th Air Traffic Control Squadron (1997); Senior Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year, Hawaii Air National Guard (2001); Department of Defense Trailblazer Award, National Guard Bureau (2008); first female to be selected as the 154th Wing, Hawaii Air National Guard, Wing Command Chief Master Sergeant (2004); first female to be selected as the Hawaii Air National Guard, State Command Chief Master Sergeant (2006); first female and first Air National Guard member to be selected as the Hawaii National Guard Senior Enlisted Leader (ARNG and ANG) (2007): and first female and first Air National Guard member to be selected as the National Guard Bureau Senior Enlisted Leader (2010).