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Memento maker helps recognize others’ service

William Shepherd

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. William Shepherd outside his office, Dec. 4, 2018, is assigned as a facilities manager at the Air National Guard’s I.G. Brown Training and Education Center in East Tennessee. Off duty, Sergeant Shepherd crafts a variety of memorabilia that display and recognize military service. (U.S. Air National Guard photo/Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith)

MCGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn. -- If U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. William Shepherd ever sets your name on wood you’ll have something hand-crafted to show from your military service.

Sergeant Shepherd is the facilities manager for the Air National Guard’s I.G. Brown Training and Education Center located in East Tennessee, but he also supports the center’s faculty and staff by crafting a variety of wooden wall plaques, coin holders, and framed flag boxes, among other work.

For Sergeant Shepherd to saw, sand, stain, and polish maple, walnut, or oak, a service member first makes a special request. More often, someone appreciates one of his pieces displayed on a wall or given out during a ceremony. He has examples of what he makes in his basement workshop at home.

His creations include pinewood plaques cut in the shape of Tennessee -- made from a pine that once shaded the education center’s central campus. There are other, more time-consuming projects of handcrafted memorabilia, made of hardwoods recovered from a horde of rough old-growth stock, which he purchased from the owner of a forgotten outbuilding outside the Smoky Mountains.

These wood plaques, statuettes, cases, and frames adorn Shepherd's office. After finishing a project, he hand-delivers it, most often to someone's supervisor, as well as attends the event, where it gets appreciated.

Sergeant Shepherd has more than 18 years of active duty service. About two years ago, he transitioned from the regular Air Force to the Air Guard’s full-time mission here. He believes that professional military education is essential to becoming an effective NCO.

“I had come here prior as a backfill instructor and enjoyed it,” Shepherd said. He explained that he taught NCO Academy at the Paul W. Airey NCO Academy, located on Tyndall Air Force Base and helped TEC graduate a super-sized class in 2016 on a temporary duty assignment.

Before his service as an instructor, he oversaw contracting and construction at Air Force bases and contingencies worldwide. He also trained as a professional locksmith and safecracker. In his current assignment, he ensures the campus facilities are in good working order. There are many responsibilities.

Sergeant Shepherd said that his off-duty time spent building memorabilia has its rewards. He gets satisfaction in creating something others will appreciate for a lifetime. It’s a stress reliever. It also helps recognize military service, if not, tell the Air Force story through keepsakes and displays on someone’s significant milestones.

His creations are more personalized than mass-market items purchased online or at the Base Exchange, he said.

“I offer something that’s unique … a memento of appreciation that I’ve either helped to build or built myself,” Shepherd said. “I like hearing Airmen tell me their ideas for another comrade and then diving into it to make the final product and see their appreciation.”