Veteran | 6 years in the U.S. Air Force
Branch, Rank, Years of Service
United States Air Force, Desert Storm (November 1986 – September 1992), Sergeant.
What Did I Do in the Service?
I was a Secure Communications Specialist. I’m not at liberty to say much more than that. I will say that I finished up my military career at NORAD, so much of what I did has been (interestingingly) depicted in SCI-FI and MCU movies.
Active, Retired, Deceased?
Ruling out deceased. I am an Honorably Discharged Veteran, with just under 6 years of service.
Reason for Joining?
I come from a long line of service members. My Dad and his brothers served in the United States Air Force, and 4 of my Mom’s brothers served in the Army, one of whom served in Viet Nam; her oldest brother served in the Navy. I graduated from a Math and Science High School but hadn’t identified how I’d pay for college. The new GI Bill had just come online. Given the military history of service in my family, it made sense to join.
Most Significant Lesson Service Taught Me?
This is an interesting question. One of my earliest lessons came while I was still in Basic Military Training: my Flight was a Team, and we would succeed or fail as a Team. My first Supervisor at my first duty station taught me that leadership must come with integrity and vision. He also sought to learn the “currency” of everyone on his Team, and he leveraged it to teach. Although I’ve moved away from this, I spent much of my career modeling the technique.
Has the Military Made Me a Better Person?
Another interesting question. I’d say that the military has certainly informed who I wound up being. By the time I joined the USAF, I had been working various part time and summer jobs, having gotten my first gig as a paper girl, at 12. Military Service did present plenty of opportunities to travel to new places, meet people who were not part of my lexicon or previous experience, and it made me a better problem solver. Many of the skills I learned in the military served my decisions about higher education, volunteerism and my overall leadership. I can say, without fear of contradiction, that I would be a different Leanne Wheeler had I not served my country. I draw the line at whether that means I’m “better” for having served. Finally, I believe that we should all perform some form of national service, It is more than obvious that we are not a nation who does serve, and it is reflected in our “exceptionalism” ideology and “rugged individualism”. We’ve only to look to how poorly we’ve managed COVID to know this is true.
Area of Most Growth?
Military service taught me to cut myself some slack and to keep my sense of humor. I was an overachiever in school, the same could be said for the time I spent in the military. Although I don’t always get it right, I am coming from a heart of service, undergirded in integrity and character.
Perspective on Patriotism?
I knew when I enlisted that the US Constitution was NOT written for people who looked like me. My family was the first Black family on our block, and it did not go smoothly during the early years. We had crosses burned in our yard, people egging our house and yard, and racial epithets were not uncommon. I’d be 12 years old before confronting these folks in alleyways and the schoolyard, before it would stop. So, by the time I entered the service, I had zero tolerance for such behavior and language. There are those who would argue patriotism means you served the country. There are those who would argue that it means an ownership of the US Constitution, all of its tenets, and nothing else. Still there are more that would argue that the actions of January 6th were patriotic, others would say the same event was definitively unpatriotic. This “patriotic” language and context, as it occurs for me, was designed to serve the landowning white men who penned the US Constitution in the first place. Not someone who looked like me, and not someone who looked like THEM, who didn’t own land. Then, as is the case now, it is a term that can be leveraged as a Dog Whistle, as a term of endearment, and a multitude of other things. I honored my enlistment commitment, and I did so honorably. I see about the least of these and work very hard to ensure social, racial and criminal justice for ALL of us, as I believe in “Justice for ALL”. Am I a patriot? Yes. I. Am.
My Transition Experience?
I’m Desert Storm era, and I served in a technical/engineering role while in service to the nation. My transition was not at all difficult. It would be years before I understood that transition for most service members – in particular, with the Afghanistan and Iraq Veterans – has been exponentially more difficult. I took college classes while on active duty, and forged connections and created networks that would serve my transition, before ever leaving the military. This is necessarily true for those who have only served in warfighting positions. We owe creating an opportunity to support our returning service members better than we do.
What I Do Post Service?
I spent nearly 25 years in the military and working in the Defense Industry. For the last 11+ years, I’ve been Principal of Wheeler Advisory Group LLC, my own small business endeavor. I consult on a number of subject matters. Most recently, I advocate for, and educate on, legislative matters. I’m also a recent candidate for public office and a published contributing author, with my first individual book project in work.
Advice to Those Leaving Active Duty?
Take an inventory of who you know, and where they ended up. Reach in for advice, and don’t be bashful about doing so. Finish up as much of your education as possible BEFORE leaving the military (I left with a degree, and that set me up for ongoing success). Certain military jobs don’t always facilitate doing so, but MOST do. Save your money. Stop smoking if you can. It’s an expensive habit and you will be paying for your own food and lodging. You’ll need your money and your health in order to transition well. Find a mentor who is already working in the area you look to become employed in. Ask them to mentor you. Be honest about what you don’t know. I’d advise that they take it easy on themselves. Timelines are false. You will have 3 or more “careers” once you leave active military service. I’m currently on my 3rd career. Had I won elected office, it would have been my 4th. Finally, take care of your mind, body and spirit, and make damn sure you stay hydrated. They weren’t wrong pushing all of that water on us during basic training.
Things to Ponder Before Serving?
This one may hurt a few feelings. If you join the military thinking that it’s like working at Dunkin, you will be disappointed. The military industrial complex is designed for national defense and to wage war. That’s it, and that’s all. There have been a number of changes over the years, but the mechanism’s purpose remains unchanged: national defense and war. You will be told what time to get up, what time to go to bed, when to eat, what to wear and how to wear it, for several weeks upon entering basic training. If you’re not able to adapt to this, you will be sent home. And it is best that you are sent home. But, if you’re able to adapt, you will have an opportunity to meet new folks, be given hella responsibility, see new places and do new things. On the other side you can keep what works, and abandon what didn’t, both of which will inform who you wind up being. It also matters who you serve under. Military service will show you a multitude of leadership styles which serve to inform how you will lead, and more importantly, how you do NOT want to lead. I don’t regret a single day of my service. Ideally, ALL who serve can say the same.