At the end of April, the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity will say farewell to Willie Jenkins, who has been a smiling face and valued member of the organization for well over a decade. Serving as USAMMDA’s property book officer and general supply specialist, Jenkins is the person responsible for managing and maintaining all items, big and small, that help to keep the unit running smoothly in support of its mission to develop and deliver quality medical capabilities to protect, treat and sustain the health of our Service Members throughout the world.
As a U.S. Army veteran with twenty years of service to our nation, Jenkins retired as a Sergeant First Class in 1999. During his military career he traveled throughout the world, and his numerous assignments included tours at Fort Jackson, South Carolina; Fort Gordon, Georgia; Fort Hood, Texas; Schofield Barracks Hawaii; Fitzsimmons Army Medical Center, Colorado; Fort Sill, Oklahoma; Korea; the United States Military Academy at West Point; and Fort Detrick, Maryland.
“I really enjoyed my time in the Army, and I had a lot of interesting assignments over the years,” said Jenkins. “While stationed at Fitzsimons Army Medical Center, I instructed more than 250 U.S. and International Students in basic electronics, while assigned to the U.S. Army Medical Equipment and Optical School. But I would say my most rewarding position was the five years I was assigned as cadre to the United States Military Academy at West Point. While I was there, I was in direct contact with each and every Cadet and future potential Commissioned Officer to graduate from West Point.”
Jenkins first arrived at Fort Detrick while still in the military, assigned to the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency in the Logistics Internship Program, with a follow-on assignment as the Senior Noncommissioned Officer, National Maintenance Point. After retiring from the military during his time at USAMMA, in 2000, he began work as a Biomedical Equipment Repair Technician at Montgomery General Hospital in Olney, Maryland. He returned to Fort Detrick to accept a position in the same field at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, and after about a decade of working elsewhere, he returned for good to Fort Derick in 2010 to serve in his current role as General Supply Specialist, Property Book Officer for USAMMDA. However, Jenkins remains a member of the Maryland Chapter of the Biomedical Equipment Technicians Association.
Jenkins’ life and career are quite interesting, and his personal journey is very inspirational for many who know him.
“I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, but spent several of my formative years living in Mississippi,” he said. “I grew up in a single-parent home with four siblings, two brothers and two sisters, and I was a pretty good high school basketball player. Out of high school, I was accepted to the Naval Academy, but turned it down because I nearly drowned when I was 12 years old – that was a traumatic, life-altering event for me. So because of this, I enlisted in the Army for some fun, travel and adventure.”
It must have really been “fun” for Jenkins, as he spent the next twenty years in military service to our country. However, the military was not necessarily his primary ambition early on.
“Odd as it may seem, my long-term goal in life has been to learn and grow. I have spent the majority of my professional life repairing medical equipment, and it has been a very fulfilling career,” he explained. “I would always tell the physicians and medical staff that my role in saving lives was equally as important as theirs, because if I did not provide them with functional medical equipment, they would not be able to do the amazing things that they do.”
“Our path in life is always changing, and I refer to this as a life-altering event,” he continued. “I mentioned earlier that I nearly drowned at a young age, and had that not happened, I probably would have been a Navy officer. If I had left the Army after my first enlistment, I am sure that I would not be here at USAMMDA. If I felt like my level of productivity at USAMMDA was the same as when I signed onto the organization years ago, I would not retire. It all stems from a change in output – when your output has declined, this is usually the time when you have to move on, and I’m okay with that.”
During our conversation, Jenkins recalls his many friends and colleagues at USAMMDA, which leads to his recollection of a frightening incident in 2020 that could have been much more than “life-altering” if help had not arrived in time. One morning, when Jenkins had not shown up at work at his usual time, nor called to say he would be late, his co-workers quickly came together to investigate the situation. They soon discovered that Jenkins was home alone, suffering from a transient ischemic attack, or “mini-stroke” that left him dazed and confused.
“Near the beginning of the pandemic, the organization had implemented a daily employee check-in policy, to ensure everyone was accounted for. If this had not been created, there is a good chance that I may not be here today. My heart literally goes out to those who came to my aid on June 25, 2020, and I thank God every day for them,” said Jenkins.
“It’s tough to name and thank individuals at times like these, because it’s not fair to leave anyone out,” he added. “However, I do want to take this opportunity to thank Redia Anderson, Kenner ‘Sam’ Samuels and (Army) Sgt. 1st Class Daniel McGarrah. Redia checked on me first, but was too far away to get to me in a timely manner, so she called Sam and explained my erratic behavior. Sam called me and came to my aid, but with my symptoms, he wasn’t sure what he should do to help me. So he called Sergeant McGarrah, who is a medic, and he told Sam to dial 911 immediately. Because of the quick actions from these three people, I am still here today, and can’t thank them enough.”
It is safe to say the entire USAMMDA team is thankful for the help given to Jenkins that fateful day, as everyone is glad to have him here — he has children and grandchildren, who certainly want him around for many years as well. He is a wonderful friend, cherished colleague and dedicated family man who always respects others, especially his mother, whom he considers “the only hero that I have ever known … [with] motherly qualities that were second to none.”
Jenkins has accomplished so much over the years, earning three academic degrees while serving full time in the Army. These include an Associate’s degree in biomedical equipment maintenance from Regis College, Aurora, Colorado; a Bachelor’s degree in liberal arts sciences from St. Thomas Aquinas College, Sparkill, New York; and a Master’s degree in management from Webster University, Bolling Air Force Base, Washington, DC.
During his military career, Jenkins received numerous awards for superior service, which include the Meritorious Service Medal (2), Army Commendation Medal (3), Army Achievement Medal (2), National Defense Service Medal, Overseas Ribbon (3), and the Good Conduct Medal (6). He also was awarded the Expert Field Medical Badge, Air Assault Badge, and Expert Marksmanship Badge.
Maintaining his service and dedication to our nation’s military members and veterans, Jenkins has been involved with the Frederick, Maryland, chapter of the American Legion for many years, and he currently serves as the Commander of Francis Scott Key Post 11. His duties include supervising all operations, and managing special events and observances throughout the year. Jenkins says that working with veterans on a regular basis may be the most rewarding aspect of his career thus far.
It is easy to see that he is a very giving person, and this is the Willie Jenkins that everyone knows and respects. He is a seasoned professional who will help others at any time, and all one has to do is ask. A very familiar sound at the north hall of the building would be someone poking their head in his office, saying, “Hey, Willie, do you have a minute?”
It’s a shame that phrase will not be heard for much longer – people will surely miss it soon. For now, as he heads into his retirement years, you will probably see Jenkins at the local bowling alley, or on the golf course. He’s always up for a challenge, as the avid athlete remains in his heart always. In fact, his tales of playing basketball as a youth with then-future NBA greats on the outdoor courts of Chicago have kept many colleagues fascinated for quite a while.
Yes, people will surely miss it soon.
As Jenkins says, our paths in life do change, perhaps more often than not – and many would agree that change is good. However, in this case, most would probably like to have Willie Jenkins as a USAMMDA teammate for a lot longer. To see his smile, hear his laugh, and just know he is there in his office, whenever you need a friend.
For now, all that remains is to send best wishes, kind thoughts and a fond farewell to a man who has dedicated the majority of his life to serving his country, and others around him, in the best way possible — yes, he certainly deserves all the best that life has to offer.
Wouldn’t you know it? We miss him already.
U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command
U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity