SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. — When Air Force Staff Sgt. Timothy Sentz, a client systems technician with the Illinois Air National Guard's 126th Air Refueling Wing, decided to enlist, he thought he would have to set aside his dream of pursuing a career in music.
"When I first joined, I kind of figured that it would be the end of the whole music thing," he said. "I didn't realize there would be so many opportunities to explore my talents."
He initially enlisted in the active component Air Force in 2010, before transitioning to the Illinois Air Guard in 2013.
Being an Air Guard member gave him the freedom to move to Nashville, Tennessee, to pursue music, while also working on the civilian side as an information technology technician.
"It's just something I'm constantly working on," Sentz said, of his music. "Whenever I get a chance, I'm working on a song or practicing. It's all about practice. My mom used to say [that] perfect practice makes perfect."
That practice has paid off. In 2016, while deployed to Qatar, he learned of the Air Force's Entertainer of the Year competition.
"I didn't know the program existed until I found it online while I was deployed," Sentz said. "I looked at [the competition] as another channel to get my music out there. I used it as a chance to get better."
He submitted a video audition and in December 2017 he found out he won in the vocal category.
"I was pretty stoked about it," Sentz said. "It felt really good to get that feedback. Going forward, it lends something to your credibility as an actual artist. It's an experience I can definitely draw upon moving forward."
It's not the first time the Air Force has recognized Sentz's singing and musical talents. In 2013 he toured the globe as a vocalist for Tops in Blue, an Air Force program that brought together musically-gifted Airmen to perform at installations worldwide.
After performing in local Air Force musical competitions, it was suggested he try out for the program and he submitted an audition video. He then went through further selection rounds, and was one of the 20 Airman who made the final cut out of the more than 500 who applied that year, he said.
"They took the best guitar players, best drummers, best vocalists and pieced them together to make a team," Sentz said.
While in Tops in Blue, he performed for troops throughout the world, including countries such as Greenland, Japan, Germany and Afghanistan.
"There wasn't a day you could slack off because we were performing in deployed areas," he said. "There was no room for anything less than your best."
The drive to perform at his best, Sentz said, was made easier because of what music means to him. That's also true now, when he's not performing every day as he was with Tops in Blue.
"I've found ways and opportunities to allow music to still remain a very important piece of who I am," he said.
But, it does take some balancing between his Air Guard duties, civilian career and performing on stage.
"It's kind of like living three very different lives," he said. "Is balancing tough sometimes? Absolutely. But I love it, and I'm extremely proud to [still] wear the uniform."