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The Commander of the 183rd Wing, Col. Donald "DK" Carpenter, who rose through the enlisted ranks and then through the officer ranks as a 'problem solver,' will now put his skills to work at the national level as the new Director of Logistics, Engineering, and Force Protection for the Air National Guard.
With this selection, Carpenter will be promoted to brigadier general.
“DK has been put in positions throughout his career where problems needed to be solved or processes needed to be improved and he has always left those jobs with the organization in better shape than it was when he started,” said Maj. Gen. Rich Neely, the Adjutant General of Illinois and Commander of the Illinois National Guard. “This is a well-deserved promotion that will put his skills to work at the national level.”
Carpenter said he was honored to be selected as the Air National Guard's newest general officer. “I always volunteered to do things to better myself the organization and to go where the National Guard needed me to go.”
Maj. Gen. Pete Nezamis, the Assistant Adjutant General – Air and Commander of the Illinois Air National Guard, said that Carpenter’s experience in the enlisted ranks and the officer ranks uniquely positioned him for his new position in the Air National Guard.
“He is a combat veteran who has seen the Air National Guard for many years with different sets of eyes - as an enlisted Airman and then as an officer. He has also worked extensively with the other U.S. services and the services of other nations,” Nezamis said.
Carpenter spent several months deployed overseas with the Illinois Air National Guard's Peoria-based 182nd Airlift Wing. He served as the aircraft maintenance squadron commander on deployments to Germany (July 2001 - September 2001), Oman (September 2002 - November 2002), United Arab Emirates (March 2003 - August 2003), and Afghanistan (August 2008 - October 2008 and November 2011 - March 2012.) He also served as the senior military officer in charge of C-130 maintenance training for the Polish Air Force as part of the Illinois National Guard's State Partnership Program with the Polish military.
More recently, he was hand-selected to be the assist and advice team lead for the Air National Guard Readiness Center providing oversight to the Puerto Rico Air National Guard following the fatal 2018 crash of a Puerto Rico National Guard WC-130H aircraft in Georgia. He learned important lessons from the toughest jobs, Carpenter said. “It was these experiences along with great mentors and the Airmen who served under me that grew me along the way.”
Carpenter started gathering leadership experience early in life. He was a Boy Scouts of America Eagle Scout at the age of 14. Right after high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and spent seven years as a Sailor. After an 8-month break in service, he enlisted in the Air National Guard and continued serving in the enlisted ranks rising to the rank of master sergeant. He earned his commission at the age of 32.
“I've learned from my mistakes and have tried to get a little bit better every day,” he said. “My advice to young service members is not to just settle - seek. Strive for continuous learning. Stay mentally and physically in the game. All things come with sacrifice and at the end of the day, it is about bettering you.”
Carpenter is a graduate of the U.S. Army's Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt Course and is certified as a Continuous Process Improvement Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt. “It was honestly the toughest course I ever took,” Carpenter said. He has contributed countless hours to innovation, process improvement and leadership development in both the Air and Army National Guard.
He also earned a master's degree of business administration from the University of Management and Technology, a bachelor's degree from Southern Illinois University, and an associate's degree from the Community College of the Air Force. Military courses include the Squadron Officer School, the Air Force Command and Staff College, and the Air Force War College.
Carpenter jokes about being a “Cross Fit addict.” Every morning at 6 a.m., he participates in a Cross Fit session. “It is about having a healthy mind and healthy body,” he said. “To me, the secret to success is formulating great habits. All those things in life you want to do - all the 'would've, could've, should've's' - you can accomplish those with great habits.”
He's also thankful for the continuous support of his spouse, Dana, and his large mixed family. “I brought three children in from my previous marriage, two were hers, and we had one together. I consider them all our kids.” Their children include Kylie, Courtney, Kami, Kameron, Caitlyn, and Chloe. Chloe, the youngest, is a student at Notre Dame High School in Peoria. They also have seven grandchildren.
“I couldn't be where I am today without my family's sacrifices,” he said. “People always thank the veteran, but really the family deserves that thanks as much if not more than the service member.”