We had the good fortune of connecting with Jeff Hensley and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jeff, what makes you happy? Why?
I want the same things that most of us want: to love and be loved; to have meaningful connections with others, and to live a life of purpose. I try to prioritize my relationships with family and friends and include spending time in nature and with animals under the “meaningful connections” category. I have pursued purpose in my life by trying to focus on service to others, both professionally and through my volunteer work. I’ve been a fighter pilot and senior officer in the United States Navy, flown airliners as a commercial pilot, and spent almost 8 years as a licensed professional counselor working with veterans and military families in the emerging field of equine-facilitated therapy. All of these roles helped me feel I was a part of something greater than myself and committed to a cause beyond self-interest. These are the things that bring me joy.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I first started flying for United Airlines more than 20 years ago. Although my career with the airline was interrupted several times by active duty recalls, graduate school, and the years at Equest, my love of flying never went away. My airline has endured some challenging times including 9/11, bankruptcy, and now the catastrophic impact of a global pandemic. But through all of it, I’ve watched my co-workers pull together for one another and remain completely dedicated to the safety and care of the flying public. I’m incredibly proud to serve alongside them.
Any great local spots you’d like to shoutout?
I love nature and first on any tour of Dallas is it’s greatest natural resource, the Great Trinity Forest. In that forest is a secluded little trail I cleared a few years ago and dedicated to a close friend who was killed while we were in Iraq. It’s called the Holland Trail and it’s about a 3 mile hike through “Wild Dallas”. After we work up an appetite hiking, it’s off to the Cosmic Cafe for some awesome vegetarian cuisine and a cold Mosaic IPA. My wife turned me on to the place awhile back and now it’s a go-to for any out-of-town visitors. The Perot Museum and/or Dallas Aquarium would round out the afternoon followed by more cold beer and grilled steak at Casa de Hensley in Frisco – aka my back porch.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
When I came home from my last deployment to Iraq and retired from the Navy, I really struggled withthetransition to civilian life. So much of my identity was wrapped up in flying fighters that I wasn’t really sure who I was supposed to be if I wasn’t wearing the uniform. But there were really three nonprofit organizations that proved to be game-changers for me. The first was Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) that introduced me to veteran advocacy and, through their efforts in Washington DC, paved the way for passage of the New GI Bill. I used that education benefit to get my master’s in counseling with an emphasis on veterans issues and animal assisted therapy and find a new professional passion. The second was an organization called The Mission Continues. TMC awarded me a fellowship to work at a local equine therapy center that was just beginning a program for veterans. My fellowship allowed me to turn my passion into practice helping transitioning veterans overcome many of the same challenges I had faced just a few years earlier. Even more importantly, TMC introduced me to another Navy vet and TMC Fellow who would eventually become my wife. Finally, the equine therapy center that hosted my TMC fellowship was a nonprofit called Equest. After the Fellowship was over, Equest hired me on as their fulltime counselor. I spend 6 of the most rewarding years of my life working with this amazing nonprofit, changing countless lives through the magic of equine therapy. Although I now fly for United Airlines, I serve on Equest’s Board of Directors and a big piece of my heart remains there.
All my pics – others in the pics are my wife, Colleen, my dog, Bear, my horse, Tez, and my other dogs, Repo, Speck, Bubby, and Mike. The last pic is on the tarmac with our Star Wars livery 737-800.