Donovan assumes responsibility as 185th senior enlisted

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot
  • 185th Air Refueling Wing

When Joe Donovan graduated from Heelan High School in 1995 he had a plan. The Sioux City, Iowa native said his plan was to go to basic training, beyond that he said he wasn’t sure what the Air Force had in store for him. Something Donovan didn’t inquire about when he first enlisted was what kind of work the Air Force would have him doing once he completed basic training.

The Air Force has constant needs for aircrew and aircraft maintainers but it also has needs for a host of other potential jobs.

“I was told I’d be a cook or security forces because I didn’t specify a particular job,” said Donovan. “I was needs of the Air Force,” he added when talking about the limited details of his initial enlistment.

Call it luck or divine intervention, somewhere along the paperwork path Donovan said he was selected to attend finance school, an early twist of fate that would serve him well in the years to come.

Following basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, Donovan’s next stop would be a short trip up I-35 to attend technical school at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls. After learning the finer points of Air Force finance, he was off to Ellsworth Air Force Base just outside Rapid City, S.D. to begin his new career, just a few hours from his home in Iowa.

In a few short years following his initial enlistment, his journey came full circle when he decided to return to Sioux City and join his hometown Air Guard unit. He was able to capitalize on his accrued active duty time when he was accepted for a full time (Active Guard Reserve) job with the Iowa Air Guard working in the finance office of the 185th Air Refueling Wing.

Two decades after joining the Air Force, Donovan reached the pinnacle of the enlisted persons career when he was selected to become the 185th Air Refueling Wing’s senior enlisted representative.  A formal ceremony took place during the unit’s September training weekend with a large crowd gathered in the fuel cell hanger in order to witness the event.

As the newest Command Chief, Donovan has achieved the highest enlisted rank in the unit and will be serving as the senior enlisted representative to the Wing Commander.  The 185th ARW Command Chief advises the commander on matters concerning health, welfare, and morale, as well as effective employment of the unit’s 750 enlisted members.

Following his time on active duty, Donovan was busy working on two undergraduate degrees from the University of South Dakota in Vermillion.  He said he also went on to earn a master’s degree in Human Resource Management from Briar Cliff University in his home town of Sioux City, Iowa.

While he was making his way up the ranks Donovan said he also served in the unit’s retention office and most recently has been working as the 185th Support Group Superintendent.

Donovan takes over from long-time unit member, Command Chief Master Sgt. Tom Fennell. Fennell was selected earlier this year for the top enlisted post in the Iowa Air Guard where he will work as the State Command Chief at the Joint Forces Headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa.

“I have worked with Chief Fennell going back to the time we worked together in the retention office.  He has a unique vision, targeting the four R’s [resilience, readiness, recruiting and retention] ensuring success across operational platforms, along with taking care of people,” said Donovan. “Human resource is our most important asset, growing people challenging people and being mindful of their needs,” Donovan added, when talking about his shared goals with his predecessor.

During his remarks at the ceremony Donovan addressed the unit’s former Command Chiefs, one of whom is retired Command Chief Brendan Burchard. Burchard was the quintessential guard member, serving one weekend each month and working full time as a teacher and coach at Heelan High School, where a little more than twenty years ago he had Donovan as a student.

Burchard was with the 185th when the unit was activated in 1968 and was a member of the Iowa Guard until he retired as the unit’s Command Chief in 2001.

“Chief Burchard definitely made an impact on my life. He instilled a lot of values both as a student and as a member of his track team,” Donovan remarked.

Command Chief Master Sgt. Donovan emphasized in his remarks that over the course of his tenure he plans to continue to seek innovative solutions to increasingly complex organizational challenges. He also emphasized the need to recruit and retain the next generation of Airmen. It is his hope that among those recruits is someone who is already aspiring to become a future 185th Command Chief.

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