The First Lieutenant | 30 Under 30 Class of 2019
"If you're finding purpose, even in the small things in life, and you are happy doing it, then I think you've found success."
Where did you grow up?
Random Lake, Wisconsin.
Where do you live now?
South Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Who is your role model?
What is your theme song?
You Learn by Alanis Morisette.
What is your official title?
First Lieutenant Jenna Lenski, Chief of Public Affairs at the 128th Air Refueling Wing, Wisconsin Air National Guard (component of the Air Force).
What does a regular day at work look like for you?
I’m thankful that every day at work is completely different. Depending on the mission, I work in media operations, community relations and direct a staff of video and photojournalists to cover various operations of my unit. In public affairs, we connect the public with their hometown military and strive to be good community partners.
Why do you love what you do?
I think that I work in one of the most creative career fields in the military. Blending my passion for photography, journalism and public relations with my passion for serving in the military is the best job I could imagine. Because I tell the Air Force and Air National Guard story, I get to go where the story is. That could mean going on deployments telling the story of wartime air operations or going to stateside locations working media coverage of domestic response to natural disasters like flooding or hurricanes.
How did you discover your passion for supporting the military?
My parents met in the U.S. Air Force at Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota. When we moved to Wisconsin, my mom got out of the military after her last deployment and my dad transitioned from active duty Air Force to the Air National Guard here in Milwaukee. I grew up in the Guard family. And when it came time for college, I chose to join the Air National Guard, with support from my parents, because of the school benefits. The Guard completely paid for my college. My commitment to the Guard was only six years, but here I am 12 years later and loving what I do. I’ve traveled throughout the U.S. and to several different countries; gone through extensive skills and leadership training; supported global and domestic operations; and met amazing people and some of my best friends in these 12 years. The military is a community, a culture and a network that you can’t find anywhere else. I’m thankful for my parents guiding me to this job and lifestyle, and I’m really proud of their service, too.
How do you define success?
I saw a pin that said, “Helping People + Your Talent = Purpose.” I loved that. I try to find my purpose in every aspect of life using this model, whether it’s helping my country by being a communicator for the military or it’s helping my church by doing some event photography. If you’re finding purpose, even in the small things in life, and you are happy doing it, then I think you’ve found success.
What motivates you?
Making a difference. It’s hard in the military because we are bound by rules and regulations, but I think we all look for ways to make the mission more effective and come up with extraordinary results. At the very least, making a difference in someone’s day motivates me.
What has been one of your favorite stories you’ve shared with the media?
My favorite story I shared with the media was definitely the B-52 Stratofortress and air operations feature with the New York Times. It was the most comprehensive story I’ve ever worked with and obviously with one of the most renowned publications in our nation. As I prepped our interviewees and worked with all kinds of subject-matter experts for this particular media visit, my understanding of the capabilities of the B-52 and its contributions to operations in the Middle East, grew exponentially. I was in the thick of the information environment in that region, working where air operations were being directed. Understatement of the century: it was cool. An added bonus was working with the men and women of expeditionary bomb squadron. They are pilots, weapons systems officers, electronic warfare officers, crew chiefs and other support personnel that keep these aircraft flying and hitting targets. I have worked with one airframe for my whole career, so learning about different airframes from these talented people was a true highlight.
As chief of public affairs at the 128th Air Refueling Wing, Wisconsin Air National Guard, First Lieutenant Jenna Lenski blends her passion for photography, journalism, public relations and serving in the military. She shares Air Force and Air National Guard stories with the public and travels to wherever that story may be. Jenna has gone on deployments to tell the story of wartime air operations and stayed in the U.S. to work on media coverage of responses to natural disasters.
When it came time for college, she chose to join the Air National Guard because of the school benefits. They paid for her college and her commitment was only six years, but now it’s been 12 years, and Jenna is still serving and loving what she does.
“I’ve traveled throughout the U.S. and to several different countries; gone through extensive skills and leadership training; supported global and domestic operations; and met amazing people and some of my best friends in these 12 years,” Jenna said. “The military is a community, a culture and a network that you can’t find anywhere else.”
In addition to sharing the efforts of the Air Force and Air National Guard, Jenna is trained for wartime operations. She is weaponsqualified and trained in chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense, like all service members are required to be for deployment, and Jenna was deployed to Qatar and Afghanistan for six months.
Her deployment was one of the best things she could have done for her career. She coordinated media operations and strategic communications involving fighter planes, bombers, cargo planes, helicopters and remotely piloted aircraft. Jenna is very thankful for the support of her husband and family because it was challenging to be away from them, especially during the holidays.
Jenna enjoys her work because she’s serving in an era where women are still accomplishing a lot of “firsts.” She said, “There has been a lot of progress made for women serving in today’s military, but I think there is still progress to be made in regard to normalizing our service.” And she plans to continue to be a part of that progress.
Early Bird or Night Owl
Facebook or Instagram
Podcasts or Audiobooks
Left Brain or Right Brain
Heels or Flats
What was your time in Qatar and Afghanistan like?
This six-month deployment was the longest one I’ve gone on in my military career. It was one of the best things I could have done for my career, but it was personally challenging. Qatar was in an interesting sociopolitical state when I got there. They were just cut off from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. That really made foreign relations interesting. In this country service members are allowed to go off base with commander approval to see the local culture and tour the nearby area. My team and I went off base as often as we could. We loved eating Middle Eastern food and learning more about the culture. When we went into Doha, the capital, we could see a newfound sense of patriotism that was spurred by the embargo. When I forward-deployed to Afghanistan, it was completely different. The familiar westernization of Qatar was nowhere to be found in this area. Service members are clearly not allowed off base and there was very limited interaction with the Afghan people. Being in Afghanistan meant I was closer to the operations in the Middle East. This also served as a learning opportunity about U.S. involvement and strategy with Afghanistan. In this capacity I was a lot more isolated. My team stayed back in Qatar and I was thrown into a new command support staff where I had to learn to make significant and quick contributions before my time was up there. It was a great opportunity, but I was happy to return to Qatar with my team and the mission I was supporting there. The deployment certainly started to take a toll during the holidays. It was hard to watch everyone at home celebrating with loved ones and I missed my loved ones more than anything. It was a true test of faith, communication, confidence and self-awareness. It was most rough for my husband and I, but we found ways to stay connected and engaged in each other’s lives. After five years of marriage, he has come to know what being a military spouse is all about and I can’t thank him enough for his enduring support.
Are you trained for combat?
I’m trained in the sense that all our service members are trained for wartime operations. I didn’t go through extensive combat training that our special forces go through, but I am weapons-qualified and trained in chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense; just like all of our service members are required to be for deployment.
Will you be deployed again?
So long as I am in the military, I am agreeing to deploy to defend our country. After a service member deploys, there is a certain amount of "down time." It will be a few years or so before I am called up again. However, we can always be called up if our national security depends on it.
What is the most exciting part of your job?
The most exciting part of my job is working with the airplanes! Who doesn’t love watching aircrews start up engines and take off to complete the mission? I am assigned to a tanker wing where we do aerial refueling, but on the deployment I got up close and personal with fighters, bombers, cargo planes, helicopters and remotely piloted aircraft. The other exciting part of the job is working with all different types of people. From foreign nationals to our coalition partners to our sister services to other government agencies, it is amazing how we cross paths and share different pieces of the mission.
In your application, you talked about overcoming adversity to prove women can succeed in high-speed operational environments. Could you expand on that?
I am serving my country in an era where women are still accomplishing our “firsts.” First female commanders, generals, Special Forces. There has been a lot of progress made for women serving in today’s military, but I think there is still a way to go in regard to normalizing our service. On this deployment, I truly found my voice. I was a young female lieutenant serving on a command support staff with a majority of higher-ranking males. I had to remind myself that what I had to say was equally as important as what my counterparts had to say. With confidence, I made sure that the commanders were always given the best information I could provide and that surprised people. My commander always kept me on my toes with questions and I thank him for that, because he helped make me into a better officer.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Our Founders Day is also Veterans Day, so November 11 is a day that has a very special place in my heart. I love celebrating the sisterhood that helped shape me into the leader I am today, as well as celebrating my commitment to the country, U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard. Also, when I found out I was deploying right after college graduation (which was my second deployment that happened in 2012), my chapter did a candle pass for luck, love and support, and that was one of the most special moments with my sisters.
"Blending my passion for photography, journalism and public relations with my passion for serving in the military is the best job I could imagine."