By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol
Special to American Forces Press Service
Oct. 19, 2009 - Though she's personally paid a high price, Air Force Master Sgt. Lisa Peele continues to "pay it forward." A little more than two years ago, Peele suffered a concussion, two broken bones and a torn knee ligament in an accident at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., that claimed the life of her husband, Air Force Master Sgt. Melvin Peele Jr. When the accident happened, the Peeles had been married for nearly 15 years.
"My husband was a leader, mentor and friend to all who came in contact with him," Peele said. "He served our country for 15 and a half years, and he was top in his career field and excelled in everything he did. His airmen loved and respected him so much. The Air Force suffered a great loss, and I lost my best friend, soulmate and wingman."
At the time, both of the master sergeants were acting first sergeants for their respective units: the 612th Air Communications Squadron for him and the 355th Mission Support Squadron for her. They both planned to become full-fledged, diamond-wearing first sergeants, but the accident changed everything.
"My husband had recently attended a first sergeant training seminar and was looking forward to doing more in that role," Peele said. "I was getting ready to submit my formal application for the First Sergeant Academy. The injuries set me back for 18 months while I went through [knee] surgery and months of rehab trying to learn to run again."
During her 18 months of recovery, Peele said, she received an overwhelming outpouring of support from the Davis-Monthan base community. News reports about the accident said "hundreds of airmen were acquainted" with the Peeles and that they were highly regarded in the community.
"They were there for me in my family's time of need," Peele said. "They did more for me and my family than I could ever imagine. The reason I can share this story now is because of them. I was able to find peace very early on because of their support, and for that I am truly grateful."
It's also because of that support that Peele wants to become a full-fledged first sergeant. She said it will be her opportunity to take the support she received and "pay it forward."
"It was after receiving that support I decided I wanted to be a first sergeant more than anything, because if I can do for one person what an entire base did for me, it will all be worth it," she said. "What better way to give than to be an Air Force first sergeant? I am truly blessed."
Peele's date with destiny comes Oct. 25, when she will start the First Sergeant Academy at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. But before course attendance was even possible, she needed a little help. That help began with Command Chief Master Sgt. Kenneth Ivey, the 437th Airlift Wing command chief master sergeant here.
With Ivey's help, Peele submitted a package to become a first sergeant to Air Mobility Command headquarters at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. Command Chief Master Sgt. Joseph Barron, AMC's command chief master sergeant, approved it in April. Since then, Peele has been designated to be the first sergeant for Charleston's 14th Airlift Squadron once she completes the First Sergeant Academy.
To accept the first sergeant job, Peele had to re-enlist to have enough retainability. Her re-enlistment also turned into a special event.
"Chief Ivey suggested that I get on a trip to Scott to meet Chief Barron, who had approved my package," she said. "Plus, I would get to finally see what my airmen really do."
The trip was Peele's first flight on a C-17 Globemaster III transport jet, and first time she ever put on a flight suit. While she was at the alterations shop having her flight suit prepared, Peele received a phone call from the military personnel element to pick up her re-enlistment paperwork.
"It was then that it dawned on me that it would be pretty cool to re-enlist on the plane," she said. In addition to Barron, Air Force Gen. Duncan J. McNabb, commander of U.S. Transportation Command, and Air Force Gen. Arthur J. Lichte, AMC commander, would be aboard. McNabb served as her officiating officer for Peele's re-enlistment.
"It just all made sense to get re-enlisted on my first flight for my first unit as a first sergeant," Peele said. "The bonus memory from this experience is my re-enlistment also took place in front of Chief Barron, who had approved my application for the First Sergeant Academy."
Now, Peele said, she is is thrilled to be on the path she and her husband set out upon two years ago. During her re-enlistment ceremony, she said McNabb had said something that brought her to tears as he remembered her husband during his remarks.
"General McNabb said many kind words, but what sticks out most is that he spoke about how my husband would be smiling down on me and be very proud of me that day," Peele said. "I miss him and I know he would be proud of me becoming a first sergeant, and to have a chance to 'pay it forward.'"
(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol serves in the Air Mobility Command public affairs office.)