By Maj. Dale Greer, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published January 23, 2010
KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- More than 500 friends, family members and coworkers gathered at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base yesterday to remember a fallen comrade, 123rd Airlift Wing Command Chief Master Sgt. Thomas "Tommy" G. Downs Jr., who passed away Dec. 12 from complications of pancreatitis.
Chief Downs, 53, served as a full-time member of the Kentucky Air National Guard for almost 32 years.
Kentucky's assistant adjutant general for Air, Brig. Gen. Mark Kraus, remembered Chief Downs as an outstanding leader with unsurpassed integrity who truly cared about those who served under him.
"Chief Downs was a giant of a man in every conceivable way to measure," General Kraus said during his comments to the standing-room-only audience in the Base Fuel Cell Hangar.
"He was physically imposing yet disarming all at once. He was a large man who had catcher's-mitt sized hands with Ballpark Frank-like fingers that were not at all well suited for normal-sized pockets. Chief Downs may have been outwardly sized like Goliath, but his spirit, his heart and his endurance was much more like David. He was a teacher, a mentor, a trusted friend and companion.
"He loved his family and was totally and completely devoted to his wife, Janet -- and she to him. He loved the Air National Guard, was completely dedicated to the mission and passionate about those who served it."
General Kraus also praised Chief Downs' "unrivaled personal work ethic," which he said "motivated those around him to high achievement."
"Chief Downs was the quintessential Command Chief. He had a presence about him that commanded the respect of others without ever demanding it. His integrity was beyond reproach, and he never made a decision that was self-motivated.
"He was a great respecter of persons, without regard to rank, position or station in life. His natural inclination was to serve others and lift them to greater heights. He applauded others' success and bore their sorrow as life found its way to our Airmen. He was a man who was comfortable in his own skin and made you comfortable in yours. He never tried to be something he wasn't, and he never needed to be more than what he was.
"When giant oaks fall they come down with a thunderous commotion, and their shadow is seen no more. The quiet strength I knew him for prevailed to the very end, but unlike the disappearing shadow of the fallen giant oak, the shadow cast by Chief Downs remains for us. It lives on in the lessons he taught us, in the laughs we shared, with the impact he made, in the lives he touched and in the stories we'll tell and retell.
"These are the things I know: Giants walk among us. I'm not one of them. But I knew one."
Col. Greg Nelson, commander of the 123rd Airlift Wing, echoed General Kraus' sentiments in his comments to the audience.
"We loved Tommy Downs because he was 'The One,' " Colonel Nelson said. "Throughout his whole career, he was the one who would do whatever it took to get the job done. Whether it was a job he could personally do himself, or whether it was job for which he needed all 1,200 Airmen in the 123rd Airlift Wing, the job was done -- even if it fell nowhere within his position description or mission statement. He never said 'no' to anything."
"Our blessing is the 32 years that he gave to us. We loved him, and we will miss him."
The memorial service, attended by military dignitaries from around the nation, featured a U.S. Air Force Honor Guard, scripture readings and a musical performance by one of Chief Downs' close friends, Senior Master Sgt. Cindy Seymour. Kentucky's adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Edward Tonini, also presented the flag of the Commonwealth of Kentucky to Chief Downs' wife, Janet Bogusz Downs.
Following the service, Chief Downs was buried with full military honors at Evergreen Cemetery on Preston Highway. General Tonini presented the U.S. flag to Chief Downs' family at the graveside internment, which was punctuated by a three-volley rifle salute.
Chief Downs was Command Chief Master Sergeant of the Kentucky Air Guard's 123rd Airlift Wing from March 2, 2006 to Dec. 12, 2009. As wing command chief, Chief Downs advised the commander on all matters concerning the morale, well-being and readiness of the more than 1,200 enlisted members in the 123rd Airlift Wing. He also served as the wing's full-time Air Transportation Superintendent from February 28, 1989 to December 12, 2009. In this capacity, Chief Downs directed and managed all air transportation activities, including the planning, scheduling and processing of passengers and cargo for air movement.
He enlisted in the Kentucky Air National Guard on February 11, 1978, and initially served as a precision photo systems repair specialist for the wing's 165th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron. He later served as a maintenance technician for the squadron's Photographic Processing and Interpretation Facility, a portable reconnaissance-imagery clearing house.
When the wing's mission changed from aerial reconnaissance to tactical airlift in 1989, Chief Downs transferred to the new 123rd Aerial Port Squadron and took the lead in the difficult task of cross-training scores of enlisted personnel for their new roles in cargo processing. He was regarded as a national leader in the aerial port community and was instrumental in the development of the Air National Guard's Aerial Port University.
During more than three decades of active-duty service in the Kentucky Air National Guard, Chief Downs deployed all over the world in support of numerous training exercises and contingency operations, including multiple deployments for Operation Noble Eagle, the U.S. military's homeland defense mission following 9/11.
Chief Downs was an in-resident graduate of the U.S. Air Force Non-Commissioned Officer Leadership School. He also completed both the NCO Academy and the U.S. Air Force Senior NCO Academy in non-resident status.
His awards and decorations include the Meritorious Service Medal with two devices, the Air Force Commendation Medal, the Air Force Achievement Medal, the Humanitarian Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal with one device, the Air Force Longevity Service Award with six devices, the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with 10 devices, the Kentucky Distinguished Service Medal, the Kentucky Merit Ribbon and the State Active Duty Ribbon.
Chief Downs is survived by his wife, Janet, of LaGrange, Ky.; his children, Whitney Simpson (Bobbey), of LaGrange and Abigail Downs, of Louisville; his father, Thomas G. Downs Sr. (Lou), of Howardstown, Ky.; his sister, Laura Salerno (Kenneth), of Louisville; his grandchildren, Jared Simpson and Liam Simpson; and several aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.