Lt. Col. Jerry Child is a leader. From the moment you meet him the man’s aura radiates confidence like someone who captivates an audience from a stage.
“A calm, rational officer who took charge of problem areas and defused emotionalism … Inspires his subordinates.”
Like many famous leaders before him, he’s got style. Dressed to the nines always, he’ll sit you down at his apartment on a beautiful piece of furniture, offer you a Ghirardelli chocolate, turn on his mounted fireplace that changes colors with a remote control, and then study your face as you listen to the chimes from his stained wood, electronic, grandfather clock.
“A distinguished, well-groomed officer. A highly dedicated leader in the health-care industry. A positive influence on junior Medical Service Corps Officers.”
It’s not like he’s going to hog the limelight for himself, but he’s more like someone who shows flashes of his brilliance only to step back and allow the warmed-up crowd see the talents of someone else.
“Judged others only on performance. Used good human relations to obtain the best from each worker regardless of present level of ability.”
Child is the type of leader who would never say these things about himself and this is not the story of one person meeting him in his apartment one time. This is the story of hundreds of subordinates, officers and colleagues knowing him for a lifetime.
Child was born Dec. 27, 1937, in Findlay, Ohio, to Silvia and Roy Child, a homemaker and general contractor.
“My dad sold his share of a brick and tile business and became a general contractor. He would go on to lay out (an entire) housing tract for what would eventually become, what we called at the time an ‘exclusive area.’”
His parents were 20 years apart in age, with his mom being 35 and his dad being 55 when they married in what Child called a “May-December” wedding.
“She had been a teacher before all that, and she was also known for putting on very good plays,” said Child. A sophisticated, cultured, educated woman, a few years before she died his mother had become so revered in their community, she won “Findlay Woman of the Year.”
Child would graduate from Findlay High School in 1956, then attend his mother’s alma mater, Ohio Wesleyan University, a 2,000-student liberal arts college less than an hour from his hometown. He pursued a double major in business and psychology. He would also join the Air Force ROTC program.
Although he spent his college years training with his ROTC classmates, being called to train for weeks on end during his summer vacations, the U.S. Air Force recognizes Child’s date of entry to the service as Sept. 3, 1960, three months after he left Ohio Wesleyan with two degrees.
“The Air Force was and always is looking for pilots, who need to have 20/20 vision,” Child said,
“But they weren’t accepting many administrative types, non-flying ‘ground-pounders,’ if you will.”
All the time he invested being a double-major student during the week and ROTC cadet on his weekends did not go unrecognized, however. At age 23, Child was commissioned as a second lieutenant and given a unique assignment geared toward his skills and talents.
“I got sent to K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base in Michigan … and it’s very near Lake Superior and it would start snowing in September and go all the way through May. They average 149 inches of snow each year.”
Although it was his first military assignment, when Child arrived at the base hospital he was told he would be the commander over the entire medical squadron.
“There I was, a second lieutenant, being told I had to command and train and all these people. The majority of them were much older with me, such as the senior sergeants.”
While it was sometimes hard to tell if the weather or the older personnel were colder, Child decided he would show them he was deserving of their respect.
“On any given day, I could be doing the responsibilities of a training officer, linen control officer, postal officer, reports and survey officer. I sat on a number of court martial boards and conducted the internal investigations.”
Child would gain their respect, and he got creative to do it.
“I thought the first aid training all the enlisted men on the base had to do was so boring … so what I came up with was I got a bunch of guys and a nurse, bought a beat-up Volkswagen, called everyone from the rest of the base into the theater, and opened the stage curtain to reveal a fake auto accident,” said Child. “(The enlisted men) had fake blood and guts hanging out of them. It looked so realistic, people would throw up … and then they would get organized into triage and start treating the guy.”
Saving his subordinates from boredom was one thing, but he was also gaining popularity for his sense of humor as well.
Eventually, through hard work, showing empathy to his subordinates and being a confident leader, the commander earned the respect of his nurses, senior enlisted officers and even his superiors.
“They started putting more people under me to help with all the responsibilities and eventually our six-bed clinic became a 50-bed hospital.”
After three years, two months and 29 days of active service, all served working as a hospital administrator, Child was honorably discharged from the Air Force as a 0-2, first lieutenant.
However, the Air Force could not afford to lose someone like Child, and he would accept a role in the Air Force Reserves immediately after leaving active duty, but as a lieutenant colonel.
For the next 25 years, he would continue to be an active and highly regarded member of the Air Force reserves, working as a hospital administrator in air base hospitals throughout the country.
At the same time, Child was also climbing his way up the ranks of management in the private sector.
“See, people don’t understand how the reserves works unless you’re actually in the reserves,” Child said. “During the week I’d be working at a company and on the weekends I’d be flying around the country, visiting hospitals and being a commanding officer.”
The respect he earned as a leader in the Air Force was replicated in his private sector work, and he eventually became an executive vice president.
After close to three decades in the Air Force and private sector, he finally retired. During his career he earned two commendation medals, and one Outstanding Reserve Organic Medical Unit award, which he says he’s most proud of.
But Child still felt the calling of being a leader. He decided he would fill his retirement days with being a Greyhound bus driver out of Los Angeles. Within a short time, the other drivers had voted him their union vice president.
“I was probably the first person in history to have been a company executive and a union leader,” said Child.
He’s left his comedy shticks, commanding officer duties, company executive money, and union leader organizing behind him.
However, at the assisted living facility where he currently lives, he is still evidently the same person and leader for many of the people and veterans there that he was for all those years.
Those who will never meet Child but want to know who he is need only read what his commanding officer wrote in his Officer Effectiveness Report on May 28, 1975:
“He is admired and respected by his subordinates. His influence over people has caused several members of the unit to be over-productive,” the report reads. “He represents the Air Force most favorably.”