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How one Airman maximized their growth thanks to a second chance

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Mikayla Heineck
  • 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- In a quiet, Midwest town almost 20 years ago, a boy who never thought he would do anything special in his life had no idea of what opportunities would come his way and the things he would achieve.

Despite a rough start during his first enlistment at then-McChord Air Force Base, Washington, Master Sgt. Timothy Nonn, the 62nd Maintenance Squadron production superintendent, has been on an upward trajectory for the majority of his nearly 16-year career.

“It took me a little while to get used to military standards,” Nonn said. “I was nearly denied my first reenlistment due to a lack of conformity.”

Nonn had a self-described “rebellious upbringing” in his home town of Jefferson City, Missouri.

”It was not an area that provided very much opportunity for advancement for me,” Nonn said.

He unexpectedly became a father six months before his high school graduation and started working at a local grocery store to help support his new family.

“At the time I didn’t have a plan, I was just living life one day at a time,” Nonn said. “My grandfather, who is a retired Marine, told me I should join the Air Force, so I did, but I didn’t anticipate the challenges I would face or the opportunities that would be presented.”

In 2005, Nonn headed to basic military training just a couple months after graduating high school. After he completed technical training in the career field of aircraft fuel systems, he and his new wife and daughter moved to Washington.

Nonn and his family had difficulty adjusting to the move and lifestyle shift that the Air Force required of them, especially at such a young age.

“It didn’t work out for us when we moved and lost that family support,” Nonn said. “I was always a good worker, but it was the personal challenges I struggled with off duty. Trying to figure out how to be married and raise a child; it was rough.”

In 2006, Nonn and his wife welcomed a second daughter, but ultimately divorced two years later. His wife and their children moved back to Missouri. 

In the first four years of his career, he received multiple letters of reprimand and was put on a control roster due to unfavorable actions while off duty, restricting him from reenlistment or promotion.

“It was not looking good,” Nonn explained. “But, because I had a desire to learn, a positive attitude, and I did my job well, they told me, ‘Hey, we can see that you’re starting to turn a corner here and we’re going to let you keep going.’”

The year 2009 was a significant and spiritual turning point for Nonn. In spite of the challenges and bad influences he had dealt with, he successfully reenlisted, married his current wife, Trish, and found a relationship with God.

In 2011, they moved to Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, where they had their first child, Nonn’s third, and his career and outlook continued to improve. He was still working in the trade of aircraft fuel systems, but after six months at Tinker AFB, his leadership moved him into the position of the unit fitness program manager and vehicle control officer.

“I got the opportunity to interact with commanders, section chiefs and flight chiefs, and I gained a bigger picture of what was going on in my unit,” Nonn said. “These new influences had a large impact on me and skyrocketed my professional development.”

After 18 months of holding that position, he went on to serve four years as a field training detachment instructor, where he taught Airmen, NCOs and civilians about the E-3 Sentry airborne warning and control system fuel system. It was there he earned two associate’s degrees, a bachelor’s degree, and a master instructor certification, which is something few people achieve.

Also during his time in Oklahoma, Nonn made the 14-hour round trip drive from Tinker AFB to Jefferson City every other weekend for 10 consecutive months in order to gain custody of his first two children.

He had to prove to a judge that he was an involved father and deserving of full custody.

“I couldn’t have done that without support from my wife and my relationship with God,” Nonn said. “It was absolutely worth it because my daughters are going to have a better future now. It was a tremendous hurdle to overcome and an uphill battle the entire time.”

Nonn and his family came back to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in 2017.

“I left McChord as a senior airman and came back six years later as a technical sergeant,” Nonn said. “Some of the civilian members in the unit remembered me from when I was here during my first enlistment. It didn’t take long for them to realize I wasn’t the same person.”

As a section chief at the time, he did a lot of work to make sure that the work environment he left was better than the one he came into.

“It’s clear that he cares a lot about people,” said Master Sgt. Daniel Elliott, 62nd Maintenance Squadron aircraft fuel systems section chief, and a friend and previous coworker of Nonn’s. “He always wants to try and do things the right way and the most common sense way, but also in the way that works for everyone involved.”

The leadership Nonn had during his first enlistment played an important role in allowing him to advance his life and career to something that he is proud of and grateful for.

“They chose to recommend me for reenlistment, despite the trouble I had off-duty,” Nonn said. “That was huge. They could’ve said, ‘We don’t recommend,’ and I would’ve been gone, but they saw potential. They trusted their instinct and they gave me a chance to turn my life and career around.”

Nonn tested for the rank of master sergeant in July of 2018 and made it on the first try.

As a young Airman, Nonn thought he was destined to fail. However, he would go on to serve in base honor guard, grow and maintain a marriage of 12 years and counting while raising three daughters, teach hundreds of students aircraft maintenance principles, earn multiple certifications and degrees, and be a leader in the aircraft maintenance production of 40 C-17 Globermaster III aircrafts.

In addition to his duties as the production superintendent, he owns and operates a tree service business. He hopes to impart his knowledge and experience to future Airmen, as an Airman Leadership School commandant.

Nonn was the first in his immediate family to graduate high school, with only a 1.9 grade point average. He now holds a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in business.

“I am truly honored to have had the privilege of leading my wingmen and my friends through their career and through their own trials in life,” Nonn said. “I am a product of high-quality leadership, an overcomer, and a prime example of why you should never give up on a person and never count them out.”