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A fitting tribute

A fitting tribute

Story by Brian Murphy on 01/31/2019

The Defense Intelligence Agency lost Chief Master Sgt. Therese Henrion, the agency’s first female command senior enlisted leader, when she passed away in Norman, Oklahoma in June 2018.

Henrion served as the agency’s CSEL from October 1995 to October 1997 under former DIA Directors Lt. Gen. Kenneth Minihan and Lt. Gen. Patrick Hughes.

During Henrion’s tenure, DIA celebrated its 35th anniversary, broke ground on the Missile and Space Intelligence Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and provided around the clock analysis and information to military operations in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The agency also received its fourth Joint Meritorious Service Award during that time period.

“As the proud son of a noncommissioned officer, I hold your service in the highest regard,” Lt. Gen. Robert P. Ashley, Jr., DIA’s director, wrote in a letter to Henrion last year. “I look to my CSEL for advice, counsel and leadership. I can say, without hesitation or reservation, you positively influenced the professionalism and behavior of DIA’s workforce. I’m certain your sage counsel was often sought by the directors with whom you served and that you set the bar for standards of conduct by the military members who looked to you for guidance.”

Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1950, Henrion joined the Wisconsin Air National Guard following high school before eventually transitioning to the active duty Air Force.

Henrion served in a variety of locations and assignments during her distinguished 26-year military career, including Guam, Alabama, Belgium, Hawaii and the Pentagon. She retired from military service following her time at DIA and, upon retirement, received the Defense Superior Service Medal, a decoration most often presented to flag and general officers.

“Chief, you are a true American hero.” Ashley wrote. “You led the Defense Intelligence Agency at a time of transition. You played a critical role in where we are today. On behalf of the 16,500 men and women who serve at DIA today, thank you.”

As a sign of the important role she played in the agency’s history, current DIA leadership, and many other members of the workforce, attended as Henrion was interred with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery, Nov. 15, 2018.

“She was a trail blazer,” said Chief Master Sgt. Benjamin Higginbotham, DIA’s current CSEL. “If you’ve read her bio, that’s apparent. To be the first-ever female command senior enlisted leader for DIA and knowing how much she thought of the agency, it was important to me to be a part of the ceremony and make sure everything was done right.”

The morning of Henrion’s interment ceremony, the nation’s capital woke up to the first major November snowfall in decades creating a beautiful contrast as bright white snow gently fell to the ground underneath the autumn-colored leaves on the trees throughout Arlington National Cemetery.

On his way to the ceremony, Higginbotham said as he mentally prepared to participate in Henrion’s interment, he couldn’t help but think back to the first time he witnessed a full military honors ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

“It was very touching the first time I ever saw a ceremony at Arlington,” said Higginbotham. “Of course, Taps’ evokes emotion in all of us. But sitting there and witnessing it from the family’s perspective, I remember thinking and I wasn’t in the military then this is an important duty. Knowing that I could pay it forward and do this for other families, I was all over it.”

A few months after Henrion was diagnosed with liver cancer, her husband, Frank Henrion, reached out to DIA. As her condition worsened, Frank, who also retired as a chief master sergeant, wanted to let the agency’s leadership know about his wife’s illness.

From there, Higginbotham and Frank developed a friendship, which ultimately led to Higginbotham serving as the presenting official for Henrion’s interment.

As the ceremony neared its conclusion, Higginbotham received the folded American flag from a fellow service member, dropped to one knee and presented it to Henrion’s family. He said presenting the flag was a powerful moment for him.

Higginbotham said, “This had much more of an impact for that family, I think, than any of us realize.”

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