From Crew Chief to Religious Affairs Airman: One Airman's Journey

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Gaspar Cortez
  • 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Many Airmen join the U.S. Air Force with an open general contract, only to find themselves placed in career fields according to the needs of the Department of Defense. Some Airmen end up loving the job they’re given while others don’t. For those who don’t, if they match certain criteria, they may have the opportunity to cross train into another field, fulfilling the Air Forces priority of retaining qualified Airmen.

But what if that window of opportunity has closed? What if the Airman has other needs that require a change? This Airman’s story is something of that sort. His journey took an unusual path directed by a higher power in order to get him where he is now.

This story begins in November of 2020. Tech Sgt. Dundre Davis, a staff sergeant and Phase crew chief assigned to the 48th Equipment Maintenance Squadron at the time, was submitted by his leadership to become an Airman Leadership School instructor at Royal Air Force Feltwell, England.

“My leadership knows I want to become a teacher when I retire from the Air Force,” Davis said. “They knew this opportunity would be a great experience and a good stepping stone in preparing me to achieve that ambition.”

Davis for as long as he can remember has always wanted to be a teacher so he could be of service and assist others on their journey through life.

Davis submitted his package, interviewed with the commandant at ALS, and was hired, but only a week later was told by his leadership that he wouldn’t be eligible that year. His leadership then mentioned that if he were to do the interview again the following year, he would be a guaranteed hire. In order to make that happen, Davis would have to extend his contract further out to make sure he would have availability.

The opening for the job had come and again he submitted a package. This time sadly, he was not hired.

“I was hurt, just as I was hurt from being selected the year before and having that opportunity taken away,” said Davis.

It would be another year before he could try again. During that time, he experienced a traumatic incident that had been triggered from trauma during his childhood. He met with Mrs. Dawn Holmes-Cooney over at the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) office, who was able to help him out.

Part of the healing process was to move him to a temporary location where he could cope with the issue. It just so happened that the 48th Fighter Wing Chapel had an opening for an experienced non-commissioned officer to help out due to low manning. Davis’ First Sergeant and supervisor at the time worked with Mrs. Dawn to get him to the Chapel.

In July of 2022, Davis began to work temporarily at the Chapel awaiting the next ALS position to open up that August. During this time at the Chapel, he performed the job the only way he knew how, at a maintainer's speed. The Chapel team quickly noticed he was finishing tasks he had been given much faster than expected.

Master Sgt. Noah Wells, Religious Affairs superintendent, started to then give more responsibilities such as facility manager and background check program manager. Davis’ work ethic of streamlining processes and completing work orders ahead of time, opened up the chapel staff to focus more of their time face-to-face with Airmen, instead of the daily admin jobs that sometimes kept them nailed down.

“I have a whiteboard in my office that I jot down notes and daily tasks,” said Wells. “This guy would come into my office to see what he could do to lighten my load…that’s the first time I’ve seen that in my career!”

The Religious Support Teams were available to get out and do more engagement in the units, Religious Affairs Airmen were able to go TDY or deploy without having to worry about certain programs while they were gone; at this point, Davis had become a vital organ in the working body of the chapel team.

Chapel staff even began to joke with Davis about retraining.

“Unless my functional [manager] from my career field would release me, I wouldn’t be able to do it,” Davis said.

Davis’ retraining window wasn’t until August of 2023, and even then, it wouldn’t be guaranteed.

While in this temporary duty, he was promoted to technical sergeant and unfortunately the chance for ALS position would come to an end. The position at the schoolhouse was for a staff sergeant only. At that point, the conversation changed to moving Davis back over to program manager at the 48th Maintenance Group in December of that year.

November came around and the U.S. Air Force Chief of Chaplains, Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Randall Kitchens, and Chief Master Sgt. Sadie Chambers, U.S. Air Force Religious Affairs career field manager, were in the country to attend a UK Chapel Corps luncheon as well as the Ely Cathedral Thanksgiving Day ceremony. During this visit, Kitchens and Chambers stopped at the RAF Lakenheath chapel to recognize a few Airmen who had been performing above the standard at work as well as volunteering their time at the chapel. Davis was among those to be recognized for his outstanding work ethic.

During the coining ceremony and conversation, Davis made a joke that was serious in intent about his situation trying to become an RA.

“It would take a miracle to get me to become an RA,” he said.

According to Davis, while being coined, Kitchens looked him directly in his eyes; and in a serious manner said, “I think we can help you out with that.” Davis in no disrespectful manner, shrugged the thought, pocketed the coin, rendered a salute and said, “thank you,” not putting too much hope into it.

The next day was the Ely Cathedral Thanksgiving Day ceremony, which Davis had volunteered for. What Davis went on to find out, was on that night amongst conversation between the Chief of Chaplains, RAF Chaplains and RAF chapel staff, was the idea of somehow getting Davis into a Religious Affairs Airman position.

Nearly a week had passed, and unknown to Davis, phone calls and conversations were taking place with the functional manager of the career field to see if Davis could possibly be released. On December first, the phone rang. It was Wells with wonderful news. Davis was officially converted into a Religious Affairs Airman.

According to Chambers, there would be no need for formal technical school training since he had been performing on-the-job training for nearly six months.

“Davis is the dependable number two that you can rely on to get the job done,” said Wells. “He will leave Lakenheath and be the NCOIC of Religious Affairs at another base and I have no doubts he will succeed.”

The story of Tech Sgt. Davis is a testament to the idea that sometimes things happen for a reason, and even when plans don't work out as expected, there may be a greater opportunity waiting just around the corner. With hard work, dedication and a positive attitude, individuals can find success and fulfillment in unexpected places.

“I always prayed for the L-rd to put me in a position where I could be of more service to people, and then this opportunity presented itself,” Davis said. “I had no idea that it would be in the chapel, but here I am doing it, and I love it.”

Davis is now excited for what his future holds in the Religious Affairs career field, knowing that he can make a difference in people’s lives and help them in their times of need.