The journey from her rural Minnesota upbringing to her role as the country’s most influential female enlisted Service member is one Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Denise Jelinski-Hall recounts often throughout her travels, inspiring young women across the country to aspire to greatness in the military.
After more than 28 years of service, Jelinski-Hall recently retired from her current position as the senior enlisted adviser to the chief of the National Guard Bureau, representing 470,000 National Guard soldiers and airmen throughout the country. From these humble beginnings, Jelinski-Hall maintains a humble attitude toward her many accomplishments.
“For the past 28 plus years, I’ve been proud to be called an Airman, a wingman, a battle buddy, the Hawaii National Guard senior enlisted leader and now the National Guard Bureau senior enlisted adviser,” said Jelinski-Hall. “I’m humbled. But it is not about position; it is not about title; it is about the men and women that we serve.”
Jelinski-Hall was born and raised in Little Falls. Her parents, Will and Betty Jelinski, still reside in the area, as well as her brothers and sisters. She started her education in a one-room school house and graduated from Little Falls Community High School in 1978. A few years later, Jelinski-Hall started her career in the Air Force, moving through the enlisted ranks as an air traffic controller.
In 1990, Jelinski-Hall joined the Hawaii National Guard and served in the state for 20 years, where she earned a position as the command chief master sergeant for the Hawaii Air National Guard and then the senior enlisted leader for the Hawaii National Guard. She was the first woman to hold either of these positions.
In her most recent position as senior enlisted adviser to the chief of the National Guard Bureau, Jelinski-Hall was the highest-ranking enlisted female in the history of the U.S. military.
During her time as the senior enlisted adviser, Jelinski-Hall came back to her home state several times to visit the Soldiers and Airmen of the Minnesota National Guard. During those visits she also took the time to visit family and friends in the area.
Jelinski-Hall credits her parents with setting a foundation of values, instilled at an early age, that have led to her success and the success of her brothers and sisters.
During a recent visit with troops overseas, Jelinski-Hall spoke to service members about the principles she feels are important. “Three things are absolutely uncompromising: core values, standards and ethics. You stay true to all of these because we need to treat everyone with dignity and respect,” she said.
Military service runs in the family for Jelinski-Hall. Her father served in the Minnesota National Guard and her husband retired from the United States Marine Corps.
“I’m sure that Denise would tell you that watching her father while working in the Minnesota National Guard and seeing that great work that he was doing – how he went from Korean War veteran and worked himself through the enlisted ranks and then became a warrant officer – that that was an inspiration for her,” said Gen. Frank Grass, chief of the National Guard.
Throughout her career Jelinski-Hall earned the respect of her leadership as well as the soldiers and airmen who she served with her stern but compassionate approach, he said.
“She is a soldier as much as she is an airman,” said Grass. “We’ve had a chance to travel a lot and I’ve seen personally the great work that Denise has done and how she treats any service member.”