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NEWS | Oct. 13, 2009

First sergeant-to-be continues to ‘pay it forward’

By Tech. Sgt. Scott Sturkol Air Mobility Command Public Affairs

She continues to "pay it forward" even though she's personally paid a high price.

Just over two years ago, Master Sgt. Lisa Peele and her husband, Master Sgt. Melvin Peele Jr., were involved in a fatal forklift accident at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., which took her husband's life, leaving her with two broken bones, a torn anterior cruciate ligament in one of her knees and a concussion.

When the accident happened, Sergeant Peele and her husband were married for nearly 15 years. The loss of her long-time companion, along with her injuries, was like adding injury to insult.

"My husband was a leader, mentor and friend to all who came in contact with him," said Sergeant Peele. "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, soul mate and wingman."

Also 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. It was both of their plans to become full-fledged, diamond-wearing first sergeants. The accident, however, changed everything.

"My husband had recently attended a first sergeant training seminar and was looking forward to doing more in that role," Sergeant 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 ACL surgery and months of rehab trying to learn to run again."

During her 18 months of recovery, Sergeant Peele said she received an overwhelming outpouring of support from the Davis-Monthan AFB community. News reports about the accident said "hundreds of Airmen were acquainted" with the Peeles and they were highly regarded in the community.

"They were there for me in my family's time of need," Sergeant 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 she received that Sergeant 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 that I decided that 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," Sergeant Peele said. "What better way to give than to be an Air Force first sergeant? I am truly blessed."

Sergeant Peele's date with destiny comes Oct. 25 when she will officially attend the First Sergeant Academy at Maxwell AFB, Ala. Before course attendance was even possible, Sergeant Peele needed a little help. That help began with Chief Master Sgt. Mike Ivey, the 437th Airlift Wing command chief master sergeant here.

With the help of Chief Ivey, Sergeant Peele submitted a package to become a first sergeant to Air Mobility Command. In April, her package was approved by Chief Master Sgt. Joseph Barron, AMC's command chief master sergeant.

Since the package approval, Sergeant 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 position, she had to re-enlist to have retainability. Her re-enlistment also turned into a special event.

"Chief Ivey suggested that I get on a trip to Scott (AFB, Ill.) to meet Chief Barron who had approved my package, plus, I would get to finally see what my Airmen really do," Sergeant Peele said. "The trip was my first flight on a C-17 and the first time I ever put on a flight suit. In fact, I had to get velcro sewn on (the flight suit) that Monday so I could fly on Tuesday."

While she was at the alterations shop, Sergeant Peele received a phone call from the military personnel element to pick up her reenlistment paperwork.

"It was then that it donned on me that it would be pretty cool to re-enlist on the plane," Sergeant Peele said. Included on the flight to Scott AFB were Gen. Duncan McNabb, U.S. Transportation Command commander, Gen. Arthur Lichte, AMC commander and Chief Barron. General McNabb served as her officiating officer for her re-enlistment.

"It just all made sense to get re-enlisted on my first flight for my first unit as a first sergeant," 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, Sergeant Peele is thrilled to be on the path she and her husband set out on two years ago.
During her re-enlistment, she said General McNabb said something that brought her to tears as she remembered her husband - Master Sgt. Melvin Peele Jr.

"General McNabb said many kind words, but what sticks out most is he spoke about how my husband would be smiling down on me and be very proud of me that day," Sergeant 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.'"