Sunday, April 14, 2024

Sherba Jean Essex, 76, of Hot Springs

Sherba Jean Essex (Amory Funeral Home)

Sherba “Jean” Essex was born on March 31st, 1947 to Syble and Eugene Essex in Hot Springs,VA.

Sherba was a trailblazing figure in the U.S. Air Force and federal service. She integrated her local high school, becoming the first Black graduate of Valley High School in 1965.

Enlisting in the U.S. Air Force in 1965, Essex trained as a Personnel Specialist and later became the first enlisted female agent for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI). During her career, she served at various bases, including Hickam AFB, Hawaii, and Andrews AFB, MD, where she worked on security details for President Richard Nixon. Essex left the Air Force temporarily to work as a Criminal Investigator at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) but returned as the first AFOSI Agent to reenlist as a prior service enlistee. Her assignments included service in Texas, Korea (the first female agent in the Far East), and Japan. She received accolades for her work on high-profile fraud investigations involving Korean nationals and Air Force personnel.

Essex later became a U.S. Air Force Recruiter in Columbus, Ohio, and served at various bases, managing programs and sections within the Personnel Division. In her 35 years and eight months of federal service, Essex earned numerous awards, including two Meritorious Service Medals, two Air Force Commendation Medals, and the Air Force Achievement Medal.

She retired in June 1989 at the rank of Master Sergeant, holding the distinction of being one of the longest-serving women on active duty at the time. After retirement, she joined the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington, DC, starting as the lowest graded Personnel Specialist and retiring twelve years later as the Human Resources Officer.

Her career exemplified dedication, achievement, and a commitment to breaking barriers for women in the military.

Survivors include her sister Barbara Boggs; Brother Eugene Essex Jr; Sister-in-law’s Darlene and Janet Essex; and a host of family and friends. Sherba was preceded in death by her parents Eugene and Syble; Brother Donald Essex; Nephew Chris Essex; and great-niece Chantelle Scott.

A memorial service with Military Honors will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday, November 25, 2023 in Amory Funeral Home Chapel.

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