Face of Defense: Airman Carries on Family’s Legacy of Service

MONTGOMERY, Ala. --

Air Force 1st Lt. Kenneth Ellison grew up hearing about his family’s service in the Air Force. Fourteen years ago, he made the choice to carry on that legacy by enlisting.

“I joined the Air Force Reserve in 2004 to better myself,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I was going anywhere and I knew the Air Force would give me the training I needed to get my life going in the right direction.”

After serving in the enlisted ranks for more than a decade, Ellison directly commissioned into the Medical Service Corps and graduated from Commissioned Officer Training at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, June 22.

Designed for healthcare, legal or ministry professionals, COT differs from other commissioning sources, such as Reserve Officer Training Corps or Officer Training School, as airmen attending this program have already received their commission. The compact course brings in professionals to quickly fill continual needs of the Air Force.

Since Ellison already attained his master’s degree, he received his commission as a first lieutenant in November, and was able to attend the 5-week COT program before returning to the 442nd Fighter Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, to serve as the Medical Readiness officer in charge.

Developing Into a Leader

“Now as a commissioned officer, I feel like I’m starting yet another chapter of my life. The Air Force has given me so much in my 14 years of service and it is amazing to be part of such a legacy,” Ellison added.

His family noticed a change during his enlistment as well.

“I have seen him mature over the years,” Ellison’s wife, Melissa, said. “He has way more drive and motivation. I’ve also seen him become more assertive and confident, he was not that way when we met almost 20 years ago.”

His 14 years as an enlisted airman helped him mature from a follower into someone driven to grow, continually learn and lead.

“The Air Force instilled in me a desire to always improve,” Ellison said. “I’m not content with staying where I’m at in life, I want to be better and help others grow and develop as well.”

Ellison is the son of retired Air Force Master Sgts. Juri Dillon and Tony Ellison, who served proudly for 20 and 24 years, respectively. However, his family’s Air Force legacy began with his grandfather, retired Air Force Tech. Sgt. Lenard Ellison.

“I was 17 and my mother helped me join the Army in August of 1947 to get out of the south due to racial tension,” he said. “In September 1947, I was offered the opportunity to join the newly created Air Force.”

The elder Ellison was in one of the first two flights to graduate from Air Force basic training and had a long career, ultimately retiring after more than 25 years of service.

“The Air Force gave my family and me opportunities to experience a different life, and meet people from various cultures,” he said. “My service gave me confidence that I could have a better life and provide a better life for my family.”

Bonds of Trust

Ellison knows the Air Force Reserve is helping his family in the same way it helped his grandfather. “The best part of being in the [Air Force] is that I get to work with people from all walks of life,” he said. “They become your second family away from home. We share a strong bond with each other and trust each other to the fullest.”

Along with Ellison’s mother, father and grandfather, his family service legacy includes two aunts, an uncle and a cousin.

His uncle, retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Rodney Ellison, retired as the command chief of Air Education and Training Command, and was on hand at the graduation. “I’m very proud of Kenneth as he carries on a 70 year tradition of Ellison Air Force service,” he said.

As Ellison and his cousin continue their family legacy, both as reserve airmen, the new officer is eager to see where this new chapter in his career will take him.

“Whether they were active duty, guard, or reserve, we’ve had a member of our family in the Air Force since its inception,” Ellison said. “It’s great to be a part of this family with such rich history.”