A legacy of hard work and selfless service

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Tambri Cason
  • 307th Bomb Wing

It was sports day at a high school in Jamaica when a helicopter landed on the soccer field. Rotators still spinning, schoolmates ran towards the action.

As a clean-shaven man with a towering presence shut down the engine and jumped out of the aircraft to stop the children from getting too close to the aircraft, the son of a local dairy farmer, shouted “I want to do this.”  

The helicopter pilot presented that child with a note, “work hard gents” printed on the front.

“That was the first time I’d ever seen a local country man flying,” said Capt. Dane McKenzie, an Electronic Warfare Officer at the 343rd Bomb Squadron. “I still have that card today.”

McKenzie had seen Canadian pilots on previous travels and watched pilots on television. However, seeing someone similar to himself sparked an interest in aviation that he could not shake, he said.

He took the local pilots advice and worked hard to complete his education, earning his bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering.

By 24 years-old, he had relocated to the United States and accepted the first available active duty enlisted position available, public health specialist.

“I lived the enlisted life for five years and it was good,” said McKenzie. “But while this was happening, my dream of flying was always there.”

That dream started to become reality when, then 1st Lt. Jeromy Harris, now a Major, went in for a pre-deployment appointment. During their talk, Harris asked McKenzie if he had ever considered flying.

Enlivened by his childhood interest, he listened to Harris explain the context of his Air Force Reserve unit.

McKenzie followed up on their conversation and eventually commissioned into the 343rd Bomb Squadron, here.

“If he hadn’t been deploying, I would never have had that conversation,” he said. “I don’t know where I would be today.”

McKenzie hopes to use his experience and presence to encourage future generations that aviation is an attainable goal for anyone willing to work hard, regardless of their circumstances.

Recently, he integrated with active-duty Airmen in the 2nd Bomb Wing to make up the first African-American B-52 Stratofortress crew from Air Force Global Strike Command to participate in the Accelerating the Legacy event at Joint-Base Charleston in South Carolina.

Accelerating the Legacy was a 2-day event honoring the heroic Tuskegee Airmen and highlighting professional development and community outreach.

The first day of the event included dedicated aviators from across the Air Force communicating and building networks, said McKenzie.

The second day focused on the future of aviation, reaching out to elementary and high school-aged students in the Charleston area.

“We’re showing children, this is what we do for our country, it’s fun, rewarding and there is hope they can do it too,” said McKenzie. “You can actually see the gears turning, when they’re looking at you and touching the airplane for the first time.”

His desire to spread knowledge and interest in aviation is not only present in a professional capacity, but is a part of his personal legacy as well.

 “As far as my legacy, I would love for my son, he is five now, to come back and be a part of the 307th Bomb Wing, flying B-52’s,” he said.

However, any one can talk to him about the commissioning process. McKenzie has mentored over 40 individuals from active duty, Reserve and civilian sections.

Several of those individuals have gone on to commission.

“I live to serve,” said McKenzie. “I am fortunate enough to be in a squadron where I am accepted, where no one looks at me as different. When I feel like they are being hard on me, they’re not really being hard on me, I’m being pushed to excel.”

From a humble beginning dreaming of flying to achieving that dream aboard a B-52 Stratofortress, McKenzie has proven resilient and dedicated to accelerating a legacy of hard work and selfless service.