Denny Danielson: A Unique Volunteer

By Richard Shipman

JAARS volunteers come to us with a variety of backgrounds and experience but with the common goal of serving the Lord. Retired Air Force pilot Denny Danielson is a new JAARS volunteer who typifies this profile with a particularly varied and interesting background.

One of Denny’s fellow flight instructors and good friend had a sister and brother-in-law who served with Wycliffe.

Denny graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1973. He earned his silver wings after one year of flight training, but his career did not follow the traditional Air Force pilot career path. Initially he trained as a helicopter pilot and flew Special Forces CH-53s in Vietnam and Germany. Denny then transitioned to fixed-wing aircraft and completed a tour as a NATO flight instructor. At this point he had the opportunity to attend the Air Force Institute of Technology and opted to pursue a master’s degree in space operations. This specialty led to an assignment with the US Space Command in Colorado, and later, to duty at Clear AFS, Alaska—an Air Force Space Command unit responsible for missile warning and satellite tracking. After retiring from the Air Force in 2003, Denny went back to work for the Air Force as a civilian, working in the Pentagon with the Air Force’s space policy office. You could say his space operations degree “launched” a variety of opportunities for him!

Denny transitioned to jets from helicopters and served as a flight instructor in both the T-37 and T-38 aircraft.

When asked about particularly interesting assignments during this career, Denny speaks highly of his tour as US Defense Attaché to Turkey where he was the senior military diplomat. One of his additional duties there was to pilot the station C-12 aircraft. “We would often have congressmen and politicians come to Turkey on fact-finding trips,” he recalled. “On one such trip I had the opportunity to fly then-Senator Joe Biden and the future Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hegel, to Azerbaijan from Turkey.” Denny, can you call in some favors now?

Denny had the opportunity to fly then-senator Joe Biden and future Secretary of Defense Chuck Hegel to Azerbaijan from Ankara, Turkey, where he served as the Defense Attaché.

So how did a retired Air Force pilot and space management specialist end up in Waxhaw, North Carolina? “I had known about JAARS most of my life,” says Denny. “In fact, the sister of a squadron mate of mine was married to a Wycliffe missionary. They were based at JAARS in the early 2000s, so I was familiar with JAARS and the good work it does.”

This familiarity led to Denny’s eventual arrival. “After 17 years of fighting traffic and congestion in the Washington D.C. area, my wife and I looked forward to moving to a place that more resembled our rural roots,” Denny explained. “My wife has a nephew in Rock Hill, South Carolina, so in 2018 we decided to visit the area and JAARS. I liked the whole JAARS vision and thought it would be a place where I could contribute. After prayerful consideration, we decided to move to Waxhaw in 2020.”

Prayer has always been an important part of Denny’s life. He was raised by strong Christian parents, growing up in the small town of Lanse, Pennsylvania. At the Air Force Academy, he became involved with the Navigators, a Christian ministry that emphasizes person-to-person outreach and mentoring to share the Word of the Lord. He has continued his involvement with this group throughout both his military and civilian careers. He and his wife Sharrie (whom he met while on active duty in Colorado) share a passion for mission work, so coming to JAARS seemed a natural way to continue their mission service.

In October Denny started working in the aviation safety office, assisting the safety manager in audits and compliance with federal regulations. “I’ve really been impressed with the quality of the people at JAARS, especially in the aviation department,” Denny says. “There’s a real sense of family here. I look forward to the day when we can remove the masks and really get to know each other.” So do we all, Denny.

Denny, like all JAARS volunteers, came to JAARS with a diverse background and unique talents. What isn’t unique is his desire to use that experience to further the work of the Lord. And if JAARS ever starts supporting space travel for Bible translation, we’ll know who to contact!

Want to use your unique talents at JAARS either as a volunteer or staff member? Click here to find out how.