Commander’s experience in Air National Guard benefits Tabernacle school district

“How you doin’? Whatcha doin’? Did you need anything?”

If you’ve heard those words at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, they likely came from Col. Stephen Henske Air National Guard commander of the 108th Maintenance Group.

Those three questions help him understand what Guardsmen need and if he can provide  resources to them, and he brings that understanding to his role as a member of the Tabernacle School District’s Board of Education.

Overseeing 265 people in the Maintenance Group, Henske’s role at the Joint Base involves  learning how to help fellow Guardsmen serve the state, and, when appropriate, the country.

“The great thing about being on the guard is I work for the governor,” Henske shared. “When (Hurricane) Sandy hit, I was actively involved. My wife’s family is on Point Pleasant in Brick and they got decimated. We were able to go and help them out.”

Splitting time between being out on the tarmac surveying what the guardsmen are doing, roaming maintenance yards and traversing the Air National Guard’s side of the base — which is roughly the size of Washington, D.C. — Henske noted the people he works with make the job more enjoyable.

“I work with such great people,” he said. “When you come to work and be with really good people who are dedicated to a mission, all contribute and who are going to work really hard with you — not for you — you can’t do anything but enjoy your job.”

Henske leads “people who turn the wrenches” and ensures they have proper resources to do their jobs correctly and efficiently. To offer assistance, he asks the aforementioned questions to find out what people need.

Hundreds of guardsmen at the base are equipped to protect the country from any current enemies, provide humanitarian aid or support when summoned and carry out day-to-day tasks, all while trying to give back to their home communities. The desire to give back “gets heavy sometimes” Henske said.

Home in Tabernacle, roughly an hour away from the base, Henske felt a calling to serve students as a member of the district’s board of education, where he began serving in January, 2019.

Initially wary after former school Superintendent Glenn Robbins asked him to join during a tough time for the district, Henske got a call from fellow soldier and former board member Antony Laudicina that changed his mind. He later founded the Tabernacle Education Foundation with Judy Sailor, Jen Houghstead and Fran Gallo to financially support education initiatives in the district.

“On top of that, he said, and this is a military thing, ‘By the way, you owe me,’” Henske  laughingly recalled of Laudicina’s phone call. “I told him, ‘Tony you’re killing me.’ That’s what got me to apply for the board.”

A 26-year career in the military has taught Henske the need for something he cherishes and promotes: diversity. Not just in the areas he serves and the people he meets, but within the guard and his unit. He has learned of the differing viewpoints they hold and what they believe is the best course of action.

“Diversity isn’t a bad thing; it’s what I think is good about us,” Henske said. “It makes us strong and that’s what I try to talk to students about when I tell them about the military.

“You’re going to meet other people and you need to understand and accept that not everyone is like you.”