JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Retired Master Sgt. Mike Reninger proudly and honorably served his country for more than 23 years before retiring on Oct. 1, 1999. Less than a year later, he was thrilled at the prospect of continuing that service when he landed a job as a civil servant.

Now, with more than four decades of government service under his belt, Reninger, a health systems specialist for Regional Health Command-Pacific (RHC-P) at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), was presented a Civilian Service Award in recognition of 40 years of service during an April 4 ceremony.

"I was honored to have the RHC-P commander present me with my 40-year certificate," Reninger said. "It really doesn't feel like it's been that long. It's been so much fun, and has gone by so fast."

In looking back over his now-41 years of government service, Reninger recalled how his plan to join the Army back in 1973 took about three years before he was finally able to don the uniform.

"I was 19-years-old when I went to join the Army," Reninger said. "But I failed the physical, because the doctors discovered a mass on my chest x-ray. They told me to go and have surgery to take care of the mass, and then 'we'll let you in.'"

Within two months, Reninger, a native of Omaha, Nebraska, underwent a thoracotomy procedure to remove the benign mass from his chest. Following several weeks of recovery, Reninger was back at the Military Entrance Processing Station, but this time, with a doctor's work release in hand.

Just when it appeared Reninger was on his way to becoming a soldier, the unexpected happened.

"The last question on the physical examination questionnaire was, 'Have you ever had surgery?' I checked yes, and added, 12-weeks ago," Reninger said. "But because I had major surgery, they disqualified me again."

Believing that joining the military was no longer a possibility, Reninger moved on with his life.

"Two years later in 1975, out of the blue, I got a call from my recruiter asking if I was still interested in joining the Army," Reninger said. "He told me that he could get me in with a waiver, and offered me three job choices: unit clerk, chaplain assistant, or medical records specialist."

After talking over each option with the recruiter, Reninger said he liked the idea of working in a military hospital with doctors and nurses, and doing "great and wonderful" things. Consequently, he opted to become a medical records specialist, now called patient administration (PAD) specialist.

"On May 26, 1976, three years after first attempting to join the Army, I headed out to basic training and Advanced Individual Training (AIT)," he said.

As a PAD specialist, Reninger served in a variety of field and hospital assignments that included the 16th Combat Support Hospital and Irwin Army Community Hospital, both located at Fort Riley, Kansas; Bassett Army Community Hospital at Fort Wainwright, Alaska; Madigan Army Medical Center at JBLM; and the now-deactivated Medical Records Activity-Europe at Landstuhl, Germany. He also spent time at the U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, working as a senior AIT instructor. And while assigned to Bassett, Reninger deployed with Joint Task Force-Bravo to Honduras where he spent six months flying around in the jungles in support of medical evacuation missions.

"I loved being in the military," Reninger said. "The thing that I enjoyed the most about the military was that every new job, every change, was something different. I enjoyed the something different," he said. "If I had never joined the Army and instead stayed in one job for 20 years, I would have been bored out of my mind."

As active duty soldiers, Tim Baker and Reninger worked together at Madigan from 1996 to 1999. Baker, now retired, was the deputy chief of PAD, and Reninger was the department's noncommissioned officer. According to Baker, he and Reninger's personalities clicked, and they hit it off from the very beginning.

"I've always enjoyed working with Mike," Baker said. "He always had something to contribute -- solving problems intellectually, and thinking about things that others may not necessarily think of when solving a problem."

After Reninger retired from the Army, he applied for jobs in the private sector and with the federal government. He said that he was looking to join a team that "recognized good talent."

It didn't take long. In May 2000, less than a year after hanging up the uniform, Reninger was hired by Madigan's former chief of quality service as the hospital's risk manager.

"I loved that job," Reninger stated. "I'm very glad that I came back into government service after I retired, because it allows me to continue serving."

Reninger worked at Madigan for nine years before transitioning across the base to the former Western Regional Medical Command headquarters. Today, as a result of a 2016 merger, it is now the RHC-P headquarters at JBLM.

Call it serendipitous, but Reninger, and Baker, who is now the chief of TRICARE Operations, are both working together again in the Clinical Operations Division at the headquarters.

As far as his future plans, Reninger said that he intends to continue working for a little while longer.

"Probably until 2021," the father of five exclaimed. "My youngest daughter will be in her fourth year of college, and I'll have 45 years of government service by then. But, we'll see what happens."