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Former Air Force Pilot, NFL Star Touts Opportunities for Veterans

By Annette Crawford
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 22, 2008 – Chad Hennings has been known by many titles in his life: U.S. Air Force Academy graduate, A-10 pilot, Gulf War veteran, Dallas Cowboy.

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U.S. Air Force Academy graduate and Gulf War veteran Chad Hennings went from flying A-10s to playing professional football. Now he is an advocate for veterans and small businesses. U.S. Air Force photo by Joel Martinez

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The three-time Super Bowl champion now can go by one more title: small-business advocate.

“Small business is the lifeblood of America,” Hennings said. “The importance of this nation is in the grassroots; it’s in the local. It’s not the major or federal or corporate, it’s the individual that has the small business that feeds the local community, provides jobs, pays the taxes for the community programs.

“To me, that’s the essence and the lifeblood of our nation -- it’s the small-business person, the entrepreneur, somebody that wants to go out and create something, to build something. That’s what our country is built upon.”

Growing up in Elberon, Iowa, Hennings learned lessons from his family that have served him throughout his life -- lessons that were reinforced when he attended the Air Force Academy. He now puts those lessons into action as president of Hennings Management Corp., a marketing and consulting company. He also is a principal in TRW, a rock-retaining-wall business.

“First and foremost is the integrity I learned from my parents. At the academy, I learned the importance of strategic planning, the importance of tactics, the importance of communication as an individual and as a member of a team, whether that be an athletic team, cadet squadron, fighter squadron or in an office,” he said.

“You have to be able to trust those you’re working with and [also to understand] the importance of service before self, of giving back by giving your best -- not necessarily to achieve any personal accolade, but to make the team successful. Those personal things are all byproducts of the team’s success,” Hennings said.

Sixteen years after climbing out of the cockpit for the last time and nearly 20 years after graduating from the academy, Hennings still continues as a spokesman for the Air Force. He also speaks to corporate gatherings, stressing the importance of commitment and leadership.

“But I also want to be able to give back, and I want to be a part of a successful business, thus my association with service-disabled veteran-owned businesses that I’m an advocate for,” Hennings said.

He said he was moved to action after getting the opportunity through the Fort Worth Airpower Society to visit Brooke Army Medical Center, in San Antonio. There, he visited with wounded vets at the Center for the Intrepid as well as the BAMC burn unit.

“[I was able to] talk to these young soldiers who have given their all in their service to their country, and to look them in the eye and have them tell me how they wish they could go back and continue to serve, that they still have a lot in them, that they want to continue to be productive citizens.

“That drive has been instilled in them through the service of wanting to give back, of wanting to be productive -- not wanting a handout,” he stressed. “That’s what sparked the light in me to be able to be a part of something, to give these individuals a chance, an opportunity.”

Hennings said small businesses have the capability of helping warfighters and making an impact on their local communities.

“You take that veteran that has such service, integrity and commitment that they gave to their branch of service and to our country, and that ethic can translate into grassroots effort. People are inspired by these individuals. People can look at that individual and say, ‘He’s paid his price. He has earned the opportunity and sit back and get his disability paycheck from the government and do nothing, but look -- he’s starting his own business.’ They’re an inspiration to me to want to continue to go out and make a difference,” Hennings said.

Americans can help in this effort, not only by supporting active-duty troops but by supporting veterans, Hennings said.

“They’re not asking for any kind of special compensation. They’re asking to have the opportunity to prove that they can do it. That’s how we can support them, by encouraging them, by providing them the opportunities for skills training,” he said.

One such opportunity is a program that began at the University of Syracuse’s Whitman School of Management in 2007 -- the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities. Hennings spoke to the first class last summer. Mike Haynie, assistant professor of entrepreneurship and emerging enterprise at Whitman, said Hennings was the perfect person to address the class.

“Chad Hennings kicked off the whole thing and really got everybody fired up,” Haynie said.

This summer the free program will expand to the business schools at Florida State University, the University of California at Los Angeles, and Texas A&M University. More information can be found at http://whitman.syr.edu/ebv/.

The Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities is an example of innovative thinking in the education arena, and Hennings said it will take forward thinkers at many levels in all walks of life to make an impact on the lives of service-disabled veterans.

“When you ask about ways to help veterans, I don’t believe that it’s all government, all public sector, all military,” he said. “It’s a holistic approach.”

(Annette Crawford works at the Air Force Small Business Solutions Center.)

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