Cool story from our local paper:Yes, Chief Master Sergeant!
After 20 years in Hawaii with the Air National Guard, Chief Master Sgt. Denise Jelinski-Hall is at the Pentagon , serving as Senior Enlisted Leader for the National Guard. She’ll be back in Honolulu Sept. 20 to speak at the annual Hawaii’s International Women’s Leadership Conference
Wednesday - September 14, 2011
By Christina O’Connor
At a White House party with husband Gary Hall and daughter Ashley. Photos from Gary Hall and Denise Jelinski-Hall
Chief Master Sgt. Denise Jelinski-Hall returns to Hawaii next week to speak at the International Women’s Leadership Conference
In the early 1980s, a twenty-something Denise Jelinski-Hall was staring down the perennial question of all twenty-somethings: What am I going to do with the rest of my life?
Jelinski-Hall had been working at a bank in her hometown of Little Falls, Minn., for the last five years. And while she liked the job, it didn’t take her long to realize that there was no opportunity for advancement. She had known a woman through the bank who was in the Army National Guard, and the two had become friends over the years. One day, this woman came into the bank, and she said, “Denise, you gotta join the Air Force and get out of here.”
Jelinski-Hall had never thought about enlisting, but the two drove to the next city to check out an active duty site. There, JelinskiHall talked to a recruiter and was immediately sold on the idea.
“I thought about it and decided it would be a great opportunity to serve my country, have educational benefits and do some traveling,” Jelinski-Hall recalls. “It all sounded really good ... and I listened to my instincts. Six weeks later I was off to basic training. I sold my car, I sold my furniture, and off I went.”
That question of what she would do with the rest of her life would end up having an increasingly impressive answer. Now, about 25 years after she set off for basic training, that young woman has become a high-ranking enlisted person in a notoriously maledominated field. She established herself as a standout leader early on. Then, while stationed on Oahu for 20 years, Jelinski-Hall climbed the ranks in a variety of organizations.
In November of 2009, she was named the Senior Enlisted Leader for the National Guard Bureau. In this position, Chief Master Sgt. Jelinski-Hall is responsible for advising the Chief of the National Guard Bureau on all professional matters affecting enlisted National Guard Soldiers and Airmen, including training, enlisted development, proper utilization and health of the force.
And next week, JelinskiHall returns to Hawaii which she still calls home as one of the speakers at the International Women’s Leadership Conference Sept. 20 at Sheraton Waikiki Hotel and Resort. This year’s theme is “Growing Our Future: Investing In Women.” The conference began in 2003 after Gov. Linda Lingle and senior adviser Lenny Klompus attended a similar event in Japan.
“When we walked out of the event, we thought how wonderful it would be if the women of Hawaii would be able to hear these women,” Klompus recalls. “I was inspired what they had to overcome to get to their particular positions.”
Jelinski-Hall is living proof that there are no predetermining factors for success that what you put in is what you’ll get out. And what she put in has been hard, unwavering work. And lots of it.
Little Falls, Minn., Jelinski-Hall’s childhood stomping ground, is a small rural farming community right in the middle of the state. She grew up on a farm with her parents and five siblings. It was there that Jelinski-Hall cultivated a commitment to hard work.
“My parents taught us a very strong work ethic,” she says. “Growing up on a farm, you learn how to work ... I credit my father particularly; he really taught us a strong work ethic and perseverance and to give an honest day’s work.”
But while her upbringing was conducive to rich values, her educational background was modest. “I didn’t have a real strong educational background,” she says. “I went to a schoolhouse much like Little House on the Prairie ... It was a oneroom schoolhouse in the middle of the country, and we had one teacher who taught all the subjects for all the grades.”
Trading in banking for basic training, Jelinski-Hall began her dynamic rise to the top. Almost immediately, she was pinpointed as a leader in basic training her drill instructor named her the unit’s dorm chief. That means, whenever the instructor was away, JelinskiHall was responsible at the dorm.
After basic training, Jelinski-Hall was stationed at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi, where she went through Air Traffic Control school. While she excelled in her studies, she says that her achievements were certainly the product of determination and selfdiscipline. “I enjoyed it ... but for me it was difficult,” she says. “I had to really apply myself and study hard. Many, many nights I was the one at 3:30 in the morning under my blanket with a flashlight studying. When weekends came I stayed on base and continued to study. I was driven to do the best I could, so I did what I needed to do to succeed.”
From there, Jelinski-Hall was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, where she met her husband, Gary Hall, who was then on active duty in the Marine Corps. To ensure that they could be stationed together, Jelinski-Hall went from active duty to the Air National Guard. She worked for three years as a ground radio operator with the California Air National Guard. In 1990, Gary received orders to Hawaii, and the couple, along with their young daughter Ashley, moved to Aiea.
“It was a good assignment for him, and it was great for me because they had Air Traffic Control at Barber’s Point. I was very excited about getting reconnected with ATC,” she says about the move to the Islands. She spent the next 12 years at Air Traffic Control Flight. From there, another slew of accomplishments followed she went through combat airspace management courses, worked as the combat airspace manager assigned to the HQ 201st Combat Communications Group, Hickam AFB, served as the command chief master sergeant for the 154th Wing, Hawaii Air National Guard and then as the command chief master sergeant for the Hawaii Air National Guard, as well as the senior enlisted leader for the Hawaii National Guard, meaning that she served as an adviser for both the Air National Guard and the Army National Guard.
“It was an honor and a privilege and very rewarding to work with our enlisted airmen. My goals were to try to better programs, policy and affect change. I was determined to help elevate the enlisted corps ... (and to) raise the bar to a higher standard,” Jelinski-Hall says of her work as command chief.
Along the way, JelinskiHall also deployed to various locations, including Korea and Japan, for exercises. And in early 2007, she had what she remembers as one of the pinnacles of her career: She deployed to Qatar to conduct combat airspace management. She was responsible for designing the airspace for fighters, reconnaissance, intelligence, helicopter traffic and all types of air traffic conducting missions.
Although Jelinski-Hall hopes that her story can show that anybody can achieve success regardless of their background, she says that being a woman has little to do with that.
“That I am a female, it’s never been about that for me ... It’s about being the airman and continually striving to be the best airman you can be, whether you are male or female.”
However, she acknowledges that, “When you look at the numbers, at the demographics and the leadership around the table, you can clearly see that females are underrepresented.”
Despite gender gaps, Jelinski-Hall has treated this fact as a source of motivation rather than hindrance.
“Females should not view the situation as a negative, but as another chance to grow and move forward. Is it a challenge, yes. Will it require hard work and a determined effort? Most certainly.”
Jelinski-Hall admits that all that hard work and determined effort has come at a price, and that oftentimes she cannot balance her work and family life as much as she’d like.
“You have to know that you are not going to be able to keep that balance as much as you want to,” she says. “You are on the road a lot. So what are you giving up? You are giving up a lot of family time, there’s no doubt about it.”
Nonetheless, Jelinski-Hall says that she wouldn’t have it any other way. Now serving at the Pentagon, with her proud, supportive husband and her equally proud and supportive daughter alongside, Jelinski-Hall seems to have done it all.
“I have just never let it become part of the equation, the fact that I was female. I worked hard. I did the best job I could possibly do ... I let my record speak for itself.”
At the IWLC, JelinskiHall takes the stage with a number of other women who are noted in fields ranging from business to nonprofits to politics. Speakers include Elim Chew, founder and president of the largest retail chain in Singapore; Julie Gilbert, the founder and CEO of a consulting company who also is credited with doubling Best Buy’s sales during her time as the company’s senior vice president; and Lesley Jane Seymour, editor in chief of More magazine.
Registration for the conference closes Sept. 18, and organizers recommend that you sign up as soon as possible, as walk-up registration will not be permitted. Breakfast and registration start at 7:30 a.m., and the event runs until 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $195. Log on to iwlchi.org to register or for more information.
“I am excited to come back home and be involved with this conference,” Jelinski-Hall says.
She is mainly looking forward to the inspiration and motivation that it can provide to attendees.
“This conference touches high school girls, college women, business women military women and moms ... I think they really walk away with the belief that if they do the right thing, if they work hard, that they can achieve their goals. I think many of them will realize their full potential is beyond what they perceived it to be when the conference first began.” http://www.midweek.com/content/story/midweek_coverstory/Chief_Master_Sgt._Denise_Jelinski-Hall/