Lt. Col. John Pennell sees his Air Force service as an honor

MADISON – When people say, “Thank you for your service” to Lieutenant Colonel (ret.) John Pennell, his response is always, “Thanks for your support.”

“It was my absolute honor and pleasure to spend more than 24 years as an Air Force Officer,” Pennell said. “Do I miss it? Only every single day. They let me fly fighter jets every day and paid me to do it.”

“Seriously, there’s no higher calling or satisfaction than to support and defend our Constitution, allowing us to raise our families in freedom. It was the best job with the very best people. I have a family of brothers and sisters all over the world . . . no other occupation can say that,” Pennell said.

Pennell reported to Officer Training School in January 1984 at Medina Annex, Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in March 1984.

During 1984, he pursued Navigator Training at Mather AFB, Sacramento, Calif. and then completed RF-4 Phantom Flight School at Bergstrom AFB, Austin, Texas in1985.

He then served in Tactical Recon Squads (1st, 38th and 12th) at RAF Alconbury, United Kingdom; Zweibrucken AB, Germany; and Bergstrom AFB, Austin, Texas. In July 1991, he reported to AF Operational Test and Evaluation Center at Eglin AFB, Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

With 555th Fighter Squadron (F-15E Training), he was assigned to Luke AFB, Phoenix, Ariz. His subsequent sites from 1994 through 2008 included 333rd/334th Fighter Squadron, Seymour Johnson AFB, Goldsboro, N.C.; HQ Air Combat Command, Langley AFB, Hampton, Va.; 333rd/334th Fighter Squadron, Seymour Johnson AFB, Goldsboro, N.C.; Commander, F-15 Combined Test Force, Eglin AFB, Fort Walton Beach, Fla; and Instructor, USAF Air War College, Maxwell AFB, Montgomery.

Pennell retired in November 2008 as a Lieutenant Colonel.

“I am a Master Navigator and have almost 3,000 hours in the RF-4 Phantom and the F-15E Strike Eagle as an Instructor Weapons Systems Officer,” Pennell said. “I flew over 40 combat sorties in Operation Desert Storm and almost 100 hours in Operation Noble Eagle following September 11.”

Pennell graduated from USAF Air War College and USAF Fighter Weapons School and served as Commander of F-15 Combined Test Force.

His awards include Meritorious Service Medal (four Oak Leaf Clusters or OLC); Air Medal (four OLC); Air Force Commendation Medal (three OLC); Combat Readiness Medal, among other distinctions.

Originally from Charleston, S.C., Pennell moved to Madison in 2008 with his work. “I had several friends who said how great life was here in Madison,” he said.

He earned a bachelor’s degree from the College of Charleston and a master’s degree from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. He works as a Principal Analyst for MTSI, supporting Missile Defense Agency.

Married for almost 23 years, John Pennell and his wife Carrie have three daughters. Jillian, a 2022 graduate of Bob Jones High School, is in her second year at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Class of 2026. Their twins, Rachel and Sarah, are juniors at Bob Jones and in their third year of cross country.

He also has a son, Ryan, who lives in Beaufort, S.C., with his wife, Andrea, and grandson, Hudson. John Pennell’s daughter, Erin, lives on Long Island, N.Y.

John Pennell is President of the Tennessee Valley Chapter of Air and Space Forces Association and is a member of Madison American Legion, Post 229.

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