A step up for stepping in

  • Published
  • By By 1st Lt. David Liapis
  • 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
There are not many Airmen who can say they were married in the cargo bay of a C-17 Globemaster, in uniform, while on duty. There are also not many Airmen who have been recognized for at least a dozen squadron, group, wing and major command awards and recognition as Air Mobility Command's professional of the year, promotion to senior Airman below-the-zone, and even awards at multiple bases for creating some of the best squadron holiday "cards."

There is, however, one Airman stationed at Incirlik Air Base who can raise his hand for all of these and many other professional and off-duty feats. Most people would assume that Airmen like this who stand out at work and in the community would certainly be retained in the Air Force.

Just before Christmas of 2013, Col. Randall Reed, 521st Air Mobility Operations Wing commander, Ramstein AB, Germany, paid a visit to his Airmen in the 728th Air Mobility Squadron stationed at Incirlik AB to talk about force management. He acknowledged the fact there are too many Airmen in certain aircraft maintenance career fields and asked for a show of hands of Airmen in those positions. About a dozen hands went up. The colonel then asked how many of those Airmen had their Community College of the Air Force degrees. A few hands went down. He then questioned the remaining Airmen if they had all completed the professional military education commensurate with their rank or higher. One hand remained held up.

That hand was that of then Tech. Sgt. Chris Rekrut, 728th AMS Quality Assurance superintendent. The commander then instructed Rekrut to come forward.

There are hard decisions that have to be made, and there's just no room for this technical sergeant in the Air Force, said Reed.

"At this point, my legs almost gave way," Rekrut recalled. "The commander dug around in his pocket for a moment and pulled out master sergeant stripes. I'd seen some technical sergeant stripes handed out before, but I'd never seen someone STEP promoted to a senior NCO."

Rekrut said the promotion was a total surprise and that he briefly thought he had really been selected for separation in spite of all his hard work and success. Instead, he would become his command's newest senior NCO.

Less than 1,000 Airmen are promoted each year by way of the Stripes for Exceptional Performers program, so some may ask "why Rekrut?"

"He was already doing it," said Lt. Col. Henry "Tres" Triplett, 728th AMS commander. "When you look at someone for a STEP promotion they should already be fulfilling the next level of detail and duty, and he was."

Triplett is not the only member of the 728th AMS leadership team who said he feels that way about Rekrut's career-long success and sustained performance.

"What we look for are the people who have been doing it, have been seasoned and are ready to do more and step up to the plate for the next level," said Chief Master Sgt. Phillip Gawan, 728 AMS superintendent. "It's an accumulation of a lot of hard work that dates back from the beginning."

Rekrut is said to not only have performed exceptionally on the job, but also to have been very involved with the Incirlik AB Community. One of the main ways he stepped up was by his leadership and participation in the Incirlik AB chapel.

This father of three said he and his wife, Corrine, who is an Air Force Reserve first sergeant, were heavily involved in the success of the chapel's Vacation Bible School program two years in a row. He described how they were able to facilitate the week-long event as well as save the chapel hundreds of dollars by creating all the props for the week-long events.

Rekrut is also very active in a local bicycle group called the Beer Belly Bike Club. People should not be misled by the name though.

"It's kind of hard to ride thirty miles every weekend with a huge beer gut," joked the Mission Hills, Calif., native. "The name always bothered me a bit because it's not all about drinking beer; rather it's about getting outside and creating an alternative for our Airmen and community."

Whether it was planning BBBC mountain bike trips throughout Turkey or fixing bicycles for free at the base's annual Spring Fling and Fall Fest community events, many say it is impossible to overlook Rekrut's friendly smile and inclusiveness of anyone interested in the sport of riding.

"The club pretty much leaned on the Rekruts every time we tried to plan something," said Gawan. "They were the reason why the membership grew in the club, and it continues to grow."

Rekrut and his family are leaving Incirlik shortly to move on to their next duty location in the United Kingdom. Gawan and others have no doubt he will step up to new challenges and find ways to step in and improve his workplace and community.

"If you look at his record, it's something he's been doing for a long time," said Gawan. "He's been doing it, and I have no doubt that's what he'll continue to do."