From intel to aircrew: C-130H navigator achieves lifelong goal

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jessica Condit
  • 189th Airlift Wing

     Setting goals and objectives for the different stages of your life and career often helps you accomplish the seemingly impossible. Whether long or short-term, reaching a goal gives one a sense of accomplishment and entices you to push forward with new achievements in mind.

     One Airman, from the 154th Training Squadron at Little Rock Air Force Base set and stuck to his dream of achieving what he always wanted…to be a flyer. Capt. Luis Hencker, a 154th TRS C-130H navigator, arrived at the 189th Airlift Wing after transferring from the Puerto Rico Air National Guard. His dream of flying was coming to fruition right before his eyes as he came to the wing to hone his C-130H navigator skills and learn to instruct others.

     “I noticed Capt Hencker’s work ethic right away,” said Col. Dean Martin, the 189th AW commander. “The way he hit the flight line during his recent Navigator Initial Qualification course and the initiative he took outside of flying as the student duty officer really caught my attention.”

     Martin spoke with Lt. Col. Norris, the 154th TRS chief navigator, about bringing Hencker on as part of the Warrior team. Quickly taking the steps needed to bring Hencker to the Arkansas Air National Guard, he was able to welcome him with the State Oath. Looking back to where he was and forward to where he is now, Hencker knew he was making the progress he needed to become what he endeavored for.

     Hencker knew he wanted to do something great from the time he was a young boy. Growing up in Colombia, he saw better opportunities for himself if he could get a start in the right direction. With a love of flying and a goal to become a pilot, he moved to the United States to attend college at Louisiana State University. During this time he participated in the college’s Reserve Officer Training Corps program and learned the practices and discipline of the United States Air Force. After graduation he commissioned into the Air Force as an intelligence officer. Although a successful intelligence officer, he felt that he still had more to give.

     “I came to the United States to learn English, go to school and how to be more of an American.” said Hencker. “I always wanted to be a fighter pilot. After graduating high school, I found out I could fly for the American Air Force or the Colombian Air Force and I was up for the challenge. I did about 8 years as an intelligence officer. I loved it, but my passion was still flying. I wanted to be part of the action and there was a spark inside of me that made me want to lead from the front.”

     While attending a SOUTHCOM convention, he was introduced to the Air National Guard. Leadership from the Puerto Rico Air National Guard was in attendance and made a lasting impression on the young officer.

     “They asked me, ‘do you want to come fly and join the Puerto Rico Air National Guard?’ We need pilots, we need navigators, everything,” Hencker said. “They were changing their mission completely. I was very interested, so I transitioned from active duty to the Guard and started training.”

     Due to the recent change in the Puerto Rico Air National Guard’s mission, Hencker, along with many other air crew members, were unable to continue their flying status. Because of this, he requested to be sent to Little Rock Air Force Base to continue learning. Searching for the perfect opportunity, he came to the formal training unit and was impressed by the forward environment into which he was introduced.

     “That is how the perfect opportunity came up,” he said. “I got to follow my dreams and take the opportunity to fly. There’s one theme about this wing and the people who are in it. The more I talk to people here, from an airman to a colonel, I see people who love what they do, think of one another and enjoy teaching and being here.”

     Although Hencker is working on becoming fully qualified as a C-130H navigator, his primary goal is becoming a navigator instructor. Before he can instruct future navigators, he must meet certain criteria. Navigators must have at least 1,000 flying hours to qualify as an instructor. To meet this prerequisite, Hencker plans to keep busy over the next couple of years.

     “I have a lot of flying, TDY’s and deployments I’m looking forward to so I can get those flying hours,” he said. “I want to contribute to the squadron the best way I can. People are here to instruct, so if I don’t become an instructor, I’m just taking up space to a certain degree.”

     According to Hencker, contributing to the mission wherever you are needed is key to being a team player. While he is honored to be in his current position, he is always looking for opportunities to be a more effective leader and Airman.

     “If the chance opens up to potentially become a pilot down the line, I may take it,” he said. “It’s a position of opportunity. I always said I wanted to lead from the cockpit and right now I am wearing this uniform, I have wings and I am part of a crew, which is fantastic. Whatever the wing needs me to be, I’ll be.”

     Hencker describes the navigator responsibility as versatile, stating that during training in Pensacola, a navigator has the opportunity to learn about different systems depending on which aircraft they are assigned to. Between learning defensive systems, weapons systems and navigation the flight navigator is capable of fulfilling many types of roles.

     “With all the things I’m learning here, I’m looking forward to becoming an instructor,” he said. “I think one of the biggest benefits of the Arkansas Air National Guard is that the 154th is the mecca of knowledge. I am acquiring it from the experts and it’s my responsibility to make sure that knowledge shared never stops.”

     While Hencker is ready to deploy and support the Air Force mission in his new role, he explains that he will never lose sight of what he is here to do: train tactical operators.

     “As an intel guy, unless I was doing something different with special forces, I always felt like I was supporting somebody else. Being a navigator is being in charge of the mission,” said Hencker. “As instructors, it’s our job to ensure everyone knows what our mission is. It’ll be my responsibility to ensure that knowledge I’m sharing never stops. We’re enablers of the mission and are responsible to make sure everything happens on time. Most importantly though, we are a crew and a team, and as such no one is more important than the other. We all make sure the mission is executed properly and in the best way possible. Otherwise consequences could be fatal.”

     Hencker also expressed his gratitude for the opportunities he’s been given throughout his life. He is proud of what he has become and hopes to leave a lasting impression on his son, Isaac.

     “If you want something so badly, work for it. That is my message to my son,” he said. “Obstacles are as simple as concrete walls. Choose to stop, or you can go over, around or through them. As a guy who grew up between bullets, looking back, I never expected to be where I am now. I am extremely grateful to have the opportunity to wear this uniform.”

     The positive outlook is shared both ways. Martin is excited to bring Hencker and his family into the team and share the ethos of the Arkansas Air National Guard with them.
     “It’s always a great day when Air Guard units are able to work together to take care of people,” said Martin. “I am excited that we could help the Hencker family by providing a path for Luis to continue to serve. I do believe he will be a great asset to the 189th mission.”