By Dave Smith
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — A journey beginning in Queens, N.Y. in 1987, and winding through several states and nations, came full circle when Chief Master Sgt. Idalia Peele, 21st Space Wing command chief retired September 1 and will return to where she grew up.
“It’s been an exciting journey,” Peele said. “The Air Force has given so much to me.”
When she enlisted in the Air Force, Peele had the idea of financing an education and travelling. It is safe to say she achieved both.
“I wanted to go to college, but I couldn’t afford it,” she said. “If I went in the military I could afford it.”
In the span of her career — about 10,872 days total — she earned two associate’s degrees, a bachelor’s degree and graduated from a number of leadership and advanced leadership courses. Peele was assigned to postings in Germany, Korea and Spain. With the frequent trips around the world visiting the 21st Space Wing’s 34 geographically separated units as part of her duties as the command chief, she has certainly travelled.
One of the most important lessons Peele learned in her career, one she passes on to others, is to be ready at all times to seize every opportunity that may present itself.
“Sometimes you miss an opportunity because you are not ready,” said Peele. “Seize every day and all the opportunity it brings. Good or bad, challenges become opportunities at some point.”
What most helped her stay focused along the way, and Peele’s biggest take-away as she transitions into civilian life, are the Air Force Core Values — integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do.
“I will take the core values with me and apply them to what is next in my life,” Peele said. “They will get me through anything, along with the leadership skills and resiliency I learned.”
The thing that marked Peele’s career most is her efforts to interact with the Airmen she commands and works with. Her first career after basic military training was as a dental assistant. Peele said she loved the career because of the patient care and interaction aspects of the job.
Moving up in rank meant more administrative duties, however, and less of the interaction she enjoyed. She cross-trained into communications and saw her time doing administrative duties increase.
“As I got rank, it wasn’t so much hands-on anymore,” she said.
As command chief, Peele found a way to keep the interaction, which is so important to her, as a regular part of her daily routine.
“I may not be the ‘chiefiest’ of chiefs, but I use my role to get out and meet people,” said Peele. “It’s a tough balance because of my strict schedule and all the travel. I think at every level you face in the Air Force, you have to be intentional and deliberate about interaction.”
There are many accomplishments she could point to as evidence of success during her career, but the one Peele counted most important may be surprising.
“The most important thing to me is making an impact on somebody,” she said. “Even if it is only one individual — if I helped, then I achieved my goal. My biggest goal was to serve the Airmen of the wing.”
Before she served Team Pete, Peele received the same courtesy as she rose in the ranks. The best advice she received over the years, from mentors and leaders, was not to expect from others what you have not done yourself. Peele said whatever expectations a leader places upon subordinates should be things the leader is up to par on.
“You better be ready to get your hands dirty with them,” she said. “Whatever the circumstances require, be excellent whether it is the best or worst job you’ve ever had because everything falls into place eventually and your reputation will follow.”
In addition to working alongside fellow Airmen, it’s important to look out for them at the same time. In her career Peele witnessed many instances of Airmen taking care of Airmen. She said it comes down to a sense of community and being good wingmen, because at the end of the day it’s about people.
“Being kind and treating everybody with respect and dignity will make things better, more enjoyable,” she said.
Peele learned the value of teamwork in the Air Force. Friends, co-workers, bosses and supervisors all helped her get through various situations in her professional, and private, life. An example was a group of single mothers she was part of, where members helped take care of each other’s children while they studied or attended class.
“The Air Force has always been a family for me,” said Peele. “Even when I was deployed to Iraq, a friend of mine watched my dog for me. It’s the simple things. You don’t have to go through anything in the Air Force by yourself. We have our rules, regulations and standards, but at the end of the day we want everyone to succeed.”
As for the future, Peele did not think too far beyond September 1. She is moving back to New York City to be near family, that much is sure, but what she is going to do career-wise is more open.
Peele wants to get into something allowing her to call on her experience to help others. Maybe something like leadership training or coaching, possibly working in the diplomatic world or even teaching English as a second language — which she enjoyed in the past.
Whatever Peele may eventually do, it is going to be a change from the last 29 years. She is excited to see what the future holds and how all the knowledge she gathered in the Air Force will come into play in the coming years.
As unfamiliar as retired life will be for a while, there will still be the familiarity of family and home back where it all began in Queens, N.Y.