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Colonel Kennedy bids farewell to Kadena

Col. Jeff Kennedy takes his final flight  in a KC-135 Stratotanker July 11. Colonel Kennedy retired July 12.

Col. Jeff Kennedy takes his final flight in a KC-135 Stratotanker July 11. Colonel Kennedy retired July 12.

KADENA AIR FORCE, Japan -- The first time he came to Kadena he set a world distance record in the KC-135. Years later he culminated a career of more than 26 years upon retiring as vice commander of the Air Force's largest combat wing. 

Both are among the most memorable moments in Col. Jeff Kennedy's long odyssey from a Navy Reserve Officers' Training Corps (NROTC) midshipman to 18th Wing vice commander. 

This journey reached its destination July 12 when the vice wing commander retired. However, even as he prepared to set out on a new journey in civilian clothes, he couldn't help but mark his appreciation for his final assignment. 

"What an opportunity for a guy who had been in the SAC [Strategic Air Command] or AMC [Air Mobility Command] mobility world - tankers his whole career - to come to a base where we have the world's best air superiority fighter, the world's best air refueling aircraft, the world's best airborne air control platform, and the finest helicopter search and rescue capability in the world," said Colonel Kennedy. "All of this is blended into one wing to provide a comprehensive air power team to take the fight to the enemy. Normally, you only get that experience in a theater of war. To do this as my last assignment was great. I only wish I could have experienced it much earlier in my career. I've been impressed with the quality and the caliber of the Airmen of the 18th Wing and the dedication and the sacrifice they put forward each day." 

Colonel Kennedy wanted to serve in our nation's military since his youth. Growing up on the east coast of Florida he developed a strong desire to serve in the Navy. Colonel Kennedy received a four-year Navy ROTC scholarship to the University of Florida and began his service as a midshipman. In his sophomore year, after changing his major, he was told he could not keep the Navy scholarship. So, he spoke to Air Force ROTC which gave him an unexpected ultimatum - you can have the scholarship if you agree to serve as a pilot. 

"I was just blown away when they offered me the opportunity to fly," said Colonel Kennedy. "I didn't have to think about it a second. I said, 'You bet!'
"The way I came to be in the Air Force was completely unintentional," he said, "but I believe it was God guiding me." 

Accepting the scholarship had an unexpected benefit. During the wait between college graduation and undergraduate pilot training, Colonel Kennedy met his wife of over 25 years. Had he continued with the Naval ROTC scholarship they may have never met.
"Jimmy Doolittle's biography, 'I Could Never Be So Lucky Again,' says it all and is I believe a great way to describe my Air Force career," said the colonel. 

He went on to serve in a variety of positions. His experience as a staff officer includes Squadron Officer School instructor and curriculum developer; assistant chief, office of Program Objective Memorandum development, Air Mobility Command; deputy chief, Commander's Action Group, U.S. Transportation Command; and chief, Inquiries and Complaints Division, Office of the Inspector General, Air Mobility Command. He has commanded at the section, flight, squadron, and air expeditionary group level including the 19th Operations Support Squadron, where he led his squadron to selection as the 21st Air Force Operations Support Squadron of the Year in 1999. He is also a command pilot with more than 2,950 hours in the KC-135. He set a world distance record on 19 Dec 1992, in KC-135 tail number 58-0001. As instructor pilot and mission commander he flew the KC-135 non-stop and unrefueled from Kadena AB, Okinawa to McGuire AFB, N.J. (16,227.19 km), topping all previous records in that category. 

"I've had the opportunity to work with some of the finest people our country has to offer," he said. "The men and women who volunteer to serve in our nation's armed services are a cut above. To be an Air Force member, I believe, makes you the best of the best."
The colonel didn't forget the family members standing beside those doing the mission. He said we don't thank them enough for what they do. 

"Anyone who doesn't believe that their spouse serves our country as well is decidedly mistaken," he said. "Our families give of themselves daily in terms of time and energy to support the cause of our nation. In exchange, they too gain experiences of a lifetime."
The colonel thanked his wife Jana, and his two children, Jonathan and Jennifer, for their sacrifices and support during his career. "Without them none of this would have been possible," he said. 

Colonel Kennedy had three pieces of advice for those following in his footsteps. First, he said, plan to succeed. A failure to plan is a plan to fail, he said. Look to your future and make it happen. Secondly, the colonel advised Airmen to "carpe diem" or "seize the day." Airmen today have opportunities for education, mentoring and volunteer service that will help them grow as a person. Colonel Kennedy recommended Airmen taking advantage of these opportunities. Thirdly, he encouraged Airmen to never give up on reaching their goals and dreams. "Dedication and desire drive us to achieve what we set out to reach", he said. 

Colonel Kennedy is starting a new journey as a civilian. He will begin that journey near Robins Air Force Base, Ga. 

"Obviously wrapping up here as the vice commander of the largest combat wing in the Air Force has been both an honor and a pleasure," he said. "It was a great opportunity and certainly the culminating point in my career. It's also been a great opportunity to serve with outstanding men and women who do our nation's mission day in and day out. I am humbled daily by their courage, commitment, and professional competence."