James W. Penniston joined the Air Force in July 1973, at the age of 18. On graduation from basic training at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas, he was recruited for the Strategic Air Command (SAC) Elite Guard, and assigned to Offutt AFB in Omaha, Nebraska. His position as a bodyguard placed him shoulder-to-shoulder with generals, visiting politicians and presidents. He rose quickly to the rank of sergeant.
Penniston went on to assignments in security police work at the Royal Air Force (RAF) base, Alconbury, in England; and Malmstrom AFB in Great Falls, Montana. In the summer of 1980, he was assigned to the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing and the 81st Security Police Squadron at Bentwaters Air Base, and promptly promoted to Staff Sergeant.
Since Bentwaters was half of a dual base, its counterpart being the Royal Air Force (RAF) Woodbridge, located approximately two miles away, Penniston and others in the 81st were often assigned duty at Woodbridge. The role of the 81st Security Patrol Squadron was to protect the personnel and assets assigned to this dual base, also a NATO installation. Those assets included aircraft and support equipment, as well as weapons for use in the event of war in Europe.
Following his strange encounter at Bentwaters and the end of his assignment there, Penniston was stationed at Ellsworth AFB (South Dakota); Bitburg Air Base (Germany); and, eventually, Grissom Air Force Base (Indiana). Inbetween, Penniston served many Temporary Duty Assignments (TDAs) all around the world.
During his career, Penniston was awarded 27 military honors, including the Meritorious Service Medal for a distinguished career; the Air Force Commendation Medal on five different occasions; the Air Force Achievement Medal; Presidential Unit Citation; and the National Defense Ribbon for having served both the Vietnam and Gulf War conflicts. He was also the recipient of a letter of appreciation from the President.
In 1993, Penniston retired from active duty, settling with his family in a small town in the United States. He currently works as a Human Resources Director for a medium-sized manufacturing company.