For someone who entered the military against his will, Charles Stenner Jr. made quite a career of it.
He served for 39 years, rising to become a pilot, a three-star general and commander of Air Force Reserve Command before his retirement in 2012.
He was recently named president of the 21st Century Partnership, which means he will lead Middle Georgia’s efforts to protect the 23,000 jobs at Robins Air Force Base.
Growing up, he didn’t have his eyes set on military service -- or flying. He lived in Detroit until he was 11 and remains an avid Detroit Tigers fan.
His family moved to Ohio when his father decided to leave a career in education and enter the seminary. Stenner graduated from high school and college there.
Shortly after his graduation from The College of Wooster in 1972, with a degree in comparative religions, a draft notice from the Army arrived in the mail. He had the option of joining another branch, however, if he did so 10 days before he was due to report to the Army, so he joined the Air Force one day before the deadline.
“I figured I would just do four years and get out,” he said.
That ended up being closer to 40 years. He became a pilot, even though the first time he ever flew in a plane was on his way to officer training school. He ended up with more than 3,500 hours in the F-4, F-16 and A-10. He was commissioned as an officer in 1973, but he never went to Vietnam.
“I truly love to fly,” he said. “It’s a different world up there.”
Asked his favorite among the three planes he flew, Stenner said it’s like talking about his children.
“You love them all, but they all have different personalities and different capabilities,” he said. “I enjoyed all of them for different reasons.”
Father served in World War II
Stenner’s father did a short stint in the Army, but it was quite an experience.
His dad was just 18 and was on a ship headed to Japan when the peace treaty was signed. His dad was supposed to be part of the force that would invade the mainland.
“He was told they expected a tremendous number of them not to come back,” Stenner said. “He will tell the story today that if it hadn’t been for the decision to drop that bomb on Hiroshima, he may not have been here to have a family.”
His father served a year and half as a part of the occupation force and worked in the headquarters of Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
After Stenner retired in 2012, his parents decided to leave their home of 50-plus years in Ohio and move into a retirement village. They wanted Stenner and his wife, Dee, to move back there and live in the home.
But they had taken a liking to Middle Georgia and decided to stay here. They had just finished renovating the Ohio home when Stenner was offered the 21st Century Partnership job, but he said they hadn’t really been thinking of moving to the Ohio home beforehand.
His children and grandchildren are scattered around the country, so now it’s going to be a family home for them all to use when they come visit his parents.
Friends from high places
There’s a fringe benefit of Stenner’s hiring: The partnership is also getting a whole gang of top-notch free advisers.
Stenner, as it turns out, isn’t the only high-ranking Air Force Reserve officer who decided Houston County would be a good place to retire. Two of his closest friends are Marty Mazick and Rusty Moen, both retired major generals who served under Stenner at Air Force Reserve Command. Mazick was vice commander until his retirement in 2010, and Moen was Stenner’s director of operations. Both of them stayed in the area after retirement, and they have breakfast with Stenner weekly along with some other retired officers.
Moen, who was involved with the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission process, said Stenner was a perfect choice to lead the partnership.
“He is a brilliant intellect, in my opinion,” Moen said. “He’s one of the sharper people I worked with in my career. He’s got the ability to think five, 10, 20 years down the road.”
Mazick said he was impressed by Stenner’s multi-tasking skills.
“I used to say he had a big bucket,” Mazick said. “He was a guy who could keep a lot of things going and could keep track of so many things going on.”
In addressing most questions related to policy issues, Stenner gives measured answers that consider all sides of an argument. However, there was one issue he discussed in which he was unequivocal.
Earlier this year, a special commission recommended doing away with the Air Force Reserve and folding its forces under the active-duty Air Force. That idea got no support, and Stenner said it shouldn’t have.
“That was absolutely the wrong answer as far as I was concerned,” he said. “That was out of the blue and absolutely a wild card that nobody had expected. ... That is absolutely not something I would recommend, ever.”
Fighting those kinds of threats to jobs at Robins is now Stenner’s responsibility. Having spent the past two years in the community talking to different people about the base and its issues, he said there is an ongoing need for public awareness.
“That’s something you can never get away from,” he said. “It’s not that people aren’t aware, but people move in and people move out. People change jobs. You can’t just make a speech one time and say, ‘Here’s everything you need to know about the base. Here’s everything you need to know about the community.’
“It’s a continuing education for everybody concerned, ... the community, the people who live on the base, the local governments and the state and federal government.”