Air Force mourns the loss of ninth Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Lee E. Hoover Jr.
  • Office of the Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force
The ninth Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James C. Binnicker passed away March 21 in Calhoun, Ga. 

Chief Binnicker was born in Orangeburg, S.C., on July 23, 1938. He was a leader and an Airman from the day he first joined the Civil Air Patrol as a high school freshman. His childhood dream was to become a pilot in the U.S. Air Force, but in August 1957, after doctors discovered high-frequency hearing loss in his right ear, he decided to enlist in the personal equipment – later called life support – career field. As a young Airman he found himself on the flight line with B-52s, KC-135s and fellow Airmen who became mentors and role models and put him on the path that would lead to his selection as the Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force in 1986. 

“Chief Binnicker was an iconic Airman who truly elevated the status of our Senior NCOs,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III.  “He was an innovator and a leader who cared deeply about Airmen. His legacy lives on today and is carried forward by the professional enlisted force we have serving our nation. For that, and so much more, we owe him a huge debt of gratitude.  He and his family are in our thoughts on this very sad day for our Air Force.”

“He was a leader in every room he entered,” said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody. “That was the case during his time in uniform and well after he retired. We often speak of legends, those Airmen who have gone before us and built the platforms from which we stand and fight today…Chief Binnicker is a legend among those legends. His impact on our Air Force is everlasting and we will truly miss his leadership, counsel and friendship.”

Binnicker’s Air Force career spanned 33 years and a variety of roles. By 1964 he had crossed-trained into air operations and was planning flights for missions going to Vietnam. He later deployed to the warzone and served in the 22d Tactical Air Support Squadron from 1968 to 1969. He quickly moved up the ranks and began serving as the Senior Enlisted Advisor for the 4th Tactical Fighter Wing, 12th Air Force and, later, Pacific Air Forces and Tactical Air Command.

In 1977, President Jimmy Carter established the President’s Commission on Military Compensation and, on the recommendation of then Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Thomas Barnes, Binnicker became the sole enlisted member on the commission. However, following Binnicker’s suggestion, the commission later added enlisted representatives from the other services.

Chief Binnicker served in the Air Force’s top enlisted position from July 1, 1986 to July 31, 1990. During his tenure he led the transformation from the Airman Performance Report to the Enlisted Performance Report, and developed the performance feedback system. He also worked to have Master Sergeants admitted to the SNCO Academy and to increase the opportunities for minorities and women throughout the Air Force.  

Chief Binnicker retired Aug. 1, 1990, but his heart never left the Air Force. He continued traveling around the world to speak with Airmen in different forums including professional military education courses. In 2000, he was selected as the CEO and President of the Air Force Enlisted Village in Shalimar, Fl., and spent the next 15 years working tirelessly to provide more than 400 residents a loving, secure place to call home. 

“Chief Binnicker spent his lifetime serving our Nation and the Air Force he loved,” said Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James. “From the first moment he stepped onto a flightline it was clear he was an Air Force leader and would become a tremendous spokesman and advocate for our enlisted force.  He was a man of honor and commitment to things greater than himself. His passing is mourned by all Airmen, past and present, around the globe.”

Chief Binnicker was always proud to wear the enlisted chevrons. He firmly believed enlisted Airmen should be given more responsibility and have the freedom to voice their opinion and be involved in the decision process. When asked years ago how he would like to be remembered, he answered, “That I did my best. I would hope most people would say the same thing…and that’s all you can do. That’s all that the country can ask of you…that you do your best.”