JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
Staff Sgt. Jennifer Dowling, 802nd Force Support Squadron Airman Leadership School instructor is the 2017 Air Education and Training Command Spirit of Hope Award winner.
The award, named after famed USO performer Bob Hope, honors Airmen who demonstrate a passion for volunteerism.
She is best known around the 802nd FSS for organizing the Pat Tillman Shadow Run – a memorial run dedicated to U.S. Army Ranger and former NFL player Cpl. Pat Tillman killed in Afghanistan in 2004. The run, which lasts 4.2 miles in honor of Tillman’s No. 42 football jersey, is held annually in April, and has drawn hundreds of participants and raises funds for the Pat Tillman Foundation.
For Dowling, volunteering is part of the territory when it comes to military service, especially when it comes to remembering those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
“As Airmen, we are here to serve, but that doesn’t end with your job,” Dowling said. “We’re here to set an example, beyond 9-to-5. Volunteering is just one way you can set that example.”
Dowling started a memorial physical training session in honor of Staff Sgt. Cierra Rogers, a former JBSA-Lackland ALS student. Rogers died from injuries sustained after saving a family from a burning building while serving in South Korea in May 2016.
“We invited the whole 67th Cyberspace Wing (Rogers’ former wing) to come train with us, so we had hundreds of people out there to remember her too,” Dowling said. “I’ve always had so many people reach out to me whenever I experience loss, so organizing these events is just one way for me to pay this forward … and to give others the support that I got.”
Beyond these memorial efforts, Dowling also finds time to help put together backpacks and school supply packages for area children, helping these same kids get flu shots and register for school.
Dowling also started the Airman Legacy Letters series at ALS, where students who have gone through the school write encouraging messages to the next person to sit in their seat.
Senior Master Sgt. John Chacon, 802nd FSS ALS commandant, has taking note of Dowling’s efforts, and was the first of Dowling’s coworkers to recommend her for the Spirit of Hope Award nomination.
“Some people just show up for work, or some people just get excited about volunteering, but she does both,” Chacon said. “She’s just an awesome instructor, but when it comes to volunteering, she is just as passionate. If there’s a cause out there that’s worthy, she is the first one on the scene.”
While Dowling was hesitant about being nominated for the award at first, Chacon couldn’t imagine a more deserving candidate.
“She’s selfless,” Chacon said. “Dowling never thinks about herself. She gets her energy when she sees that she’s helping others.”
That attitude, Chacon continued, has inspired the rest of the cadre at ALS to volunteer more often.
“Seeing her out there,” Chacon said, “it’s contagious. She’s so passionate about these causes, and that makes us just as happy to be out there alongside her.”