I have tears in my eyes as I write this tribute to the most incredible Chief with whom I had the honor of serving in the Air Force. Born 2 Sept 1930, Chief Tennant (THT amongst his friends) enlisted in the AF on 5 Sept 1950. With a break in service, he retired in 1983 with 31 yrs & 29 days of active duty — 24 years on flying status, logging 7,500-plus recon flying hours.
CMSgt. Tennant was best known for his “computer mind” — for good reason — ask him about any event on his watch, and he would respond instantly with names, activities, and dates. At 85 years old, he might hesitate, telling you his memory is fading, but he would come forth with full details. That brilliant mind was only part of what made THT unique — it was his vast experience and the effective and efficient way he used his abilities to lead and manage resources that set him apart from contemporaries. Chief Tennant mentoring thousands of airmen and officers during his career, and he had a hand in optimizing many strategic and tactical airborne ISR programs in use today.
In 1958, SSgt. Tennant began his flying career with Det 1, 6911th RGM, Rhein-Main AB, Germany, his first of eight airborne assignments. In the “kick-the-tires-and-fly” era when airborne intercept operators received no formal airborne training, SSgt. Tennant had a four-hour introduction to the C-130 ACRP during a flight crew training mission. Then when he was scheduled as an AMS trainee — on his first mission no less — the Ops NCOIC (the scheduled AMS) took himself off the mission and designated SSgt. Tennant the AMS — his initiation into airborne recon!!! On 2 September 1958 (his 28th birthday), SSgt. Tennant lost 17 flying comrades when Soviet MiG-17 pilots shot down C-130 60528 over Armenia. That loss affected attention to detail that Chief Tennant paid in insuring compliance with unit training and Stan/Eval procedures for the rest of his career.
In Nov ‘61, TSgt. Tennant became NCOIC of newly activated Det 1, 6916th RSM, Incirlik AB, Turkey. Promoted to MSgt., in December 1964 he became NCOIC of recently activated Det 1, 6940th SW, Offutt AFB — legacy unit of today’s 97th Intel Sqdn. Det 1, 6940th SW became the 6949th SS on 1 July 1965. MSgt. Tennant oversaw the start-up of 6949th airborne ops aboard SAC Big Team RC-135C Burning Pipe missions. Arriving as 6949th SS/CC in late ‘65, Major (later Maj. General) Doyle E. Larson and MSgt. Thomas H. Tennant formed a close professional bond that lasted until General Larson’s death in 2007.
MSgt. Tennant became Ops NCOIC, 6988th SS, Yokota AB, Japan, in 1966. He had the challenge of providing C-130 crews to fly two missions per day from Da Nang AB. Vietnam. Soon, Maj. Larson had a new mission for newly promoted SMSgt. Tennant. In 1967, Larson called on him to help activate the 6990th SS on Kadena AB, Okinawa, and Tennant played a major role in supporting RC-135M Combat Apple operations in SEA for three years. CMSgt. (selectee) Tennant returned to Europe as 6916th Ops NCOIC at Rhein-Main in 1970.
In 1973 when the RC-135C ELINT platforms were converted to RC-135V Rivet Joint ASRPs, USAFSS picked Chief Tennant as NCOIC of Ops, 6944th SW at Offutt, where he managed the RJ, Block I start-up and the MOB/FOB (main operating base/forward operating base) activities.
In 1975, Chief Tennant accepted an assignment as Ops NCOIC, 6908th SS, NKP, Thailand — his only non-flying assignment since 1958. When the 6908th closed down in June 1975, he relocated with the unit’s Olympic Torch remote ground equipment to Ramasun Station, Thailand, where he brought the Torch ground station back on line before PCS’ing back to the 6944th SW at Offutt in Feb ‘76.
Chief Tennant’s third & final assignment at Offutt AFB (1976-83) was his most challenging, supporting extended RC-135 RJ coverage of the Nicaraguan civil war with an inadequate number of airborne Spanish linguists. He did such an outstanding job that the Spanish linguists adopted him as one of their own and honored him with a special tribute. When he retired in 1983, Chief Tennant had served as NCOIC of Ops/Ops Supe in each of the 97th IS heritage units at Offutt.
Chief Tennant leaves behind his Scottish bride of 62 years, Margaret, three daughters — Patricia Ann Burkhart, Penny Schumacher, and Jean Ellen Price — one son, Thomas H. Tennant Jr., and five grandsons. In a recent goodbye phone call, THE CHIEF maintained his positive attitude, “I have lived a full life and I feel I have contributed.” You are correct, Chief — RIP, Old Friend!!!