Former Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Binnicker, who was the service's top enlisted man from 1986 to 1990, passed away in Calhoun, Georgia, on Saturday, the Air Force said. He was 76.
Binnicker, a Vietnam veteran, served for 33 years before retiring in 1990. He had a considerable effect on the lives and careers of enlisted airmen that is still felt today. As the ninth CMSAF, Binnicker oversaw the Air Force's transition from the old Airman Performance Report to the new Enlisted Performance Report system of evaluating enlisted airmen, and the service's performance feedback system.
The Air Force said Binnicker also pushed the service to admit master sergeants to the Senior Non-Commissioned Officer Academy, and to increase opportunities for women and minorities.
"He was a leader in every room he entered," current CMSAF James Cody said in a release Saturday. "That was the case during his time in uniform and well after he retired. We often speak of legends, those airmen who have gone before us and built the platforms from which we stand and fight today. Chief Binnicker is a legend among those legends. His impact on our Air Force is everlasting and we will truly miss his leadership, counsel and friendship."
Binnicker was born in Orangeburg, South Carolina, July 23, 1938, and joined the Civil Air Patrol his freshman year in high school. He long dreamed of becoming an Air Force pilot, the Air Force said, but his hopes were dashed when doctors discovered high-frequency hearing loss in his right ear.
Instead, he enlisted in the Air Force in August 1957 and entered the personal equipment career field, which was later renamed life support. He worked on the flight line with B-52s and KC-135s, the Air Force said.
He cross-trained into air operations and by 1964, he was planning flights for missions to Vietnam. He deployed to Vietnam, and served in the 22nd Tactical Air Support Squadron in 1968 and 1969.
Binnicker later served as the senior enlisted adviser for the 4th Tactical Wing, the 12th Air Force, and Pacific Air Forces and Tactical Air Command.
When President Carter convened the President's Commission on Military Compensation in 1977, Binnicker was originally the sole enlisted member on the panel. But he successfully pushed the commission to later add enlisted representatives from other services.
After retiring, the Air Force said Binnicker traveled around the world speaking with airmen at professional military education courses, as well as other events. He was chosen to be CEO and president of the Air Force Enlisted Village in Shalimar, Florida, Fla. in 2000, and led the community of 400 residents for the next 15 years.
He regularly shared his thoughts on issues affecting enlisted airmen with Air Force Times.
The Air Force said that when Binnicker was once asked how he hoped to be remembered, he said, "That I did my best. I would hope most people would say the same thing ... and that's all you can do. That's all the country can ask of you ... that you do your best."
Air Force SecretarySec. Deborah Lee James and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh also paid tribute to Binnicker.
"Chief Binnicker was an iconic airman who truly elevated the status of our senior [non-commissioned officers]," Welsh said. "He was an innovator and a leader who cared deeply about airmen. His legacy lives on today and is carried forward by the professional enlisted force we have serving our nation. For that, and so much more, we owe him a huge debt of gratitude. He and his family are in our thoughts on this very sad day for our Air Force."
"Chief Binnicker spent his lifetime serving our nation and the Air Force he loved," James said. "From the first moment he stepped onto a flightline, it was clear he was an Air Force leader and would become a tremendous spokesman and advocate for our enlisted force. He was a man of honor and commitment to things greater than himself. His passing is mourned by all airmen, past and present, around the globe."