NIAGARA FALLS AIR RESERVE STATION, N.Y. --
Josette Wheeler is a Master Sergeant here and works in the 914th Maintenance Squadron as a Knowledge Operations Specialist. She’s been at Niagara for 14 years, having previously served on active duty.
Aside from being a proud member of the U.S. Air Force, Wheeler is a member of the Six Nations of the Grand River; made up of the Mohawk, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Seneca and Tuscarora people.
She’s also a member of the American Legion, a non-profit patriotic veteran’s organization that focuses on service to veterans and the local community.
The American Legion is volunteer based and is operated by the people it serves. Members participate in various community events such as public ceremonies and Flag Day at local schools. They provide scholarships, sponsor baseball teams, etc.
Wheeler has previously served as her local Legion’s commander and currently serves as treasurer. She has been a member for 25 years. She’s one of the youngest members in her post, serving with World War II and a majority of Vietnam vets.
“It makes you feel good that you’re giving them something and you’re part of something with them,” says Wheeler of the members she serves with.
Last month, Wheeler participated in the Six Nations American Legion Memorial Day ceremony at the Alleghany Seneca Casino in Salamanca, N.Y. where she represented the Six Nations, the American Legion and the U.S. Air Force. Wheeler performed the 21 Gun Salute, a traditional military honor involving the firing of artillery, in memory of those who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
Wheeler joined the military in 1989, as a teenager. She served through operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and spent her four years of active duty maintaining the B-52 Bomber.
She recalls the feeling of pride in knowing she had played a part in something so important.
“When I think about being over there and being entrusted to have a part in maintaining something so massive,” said Wheeler. “That’s where it spurred inside me…this is where I belong.”
Wheeler says that pride and sense of purpose and belonging has been something she observed and admired in family members who have served, including her father, Malcolm Wheeler, who served and retired from the 107th Attack Wing.
“As a little girl, just being around the military atmosphere was appealing to me,” she said. “From a young age I always knew I was going to join the Air Force.”
Wheeler initially left the Air Force after completing four years of service, but soon realized that she missed it, and she wasn’t happy.
In 2001 she joined the Air Force Reserve and began serving at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station under the 914th Airlift Wing where she continues to serve today.
She has instilled in her children a willingness to serve, as her son, Airman 1st Class Scotland A. Rodriguez is finishing up technical school at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, and will soon be serving at Niagara as a reservist for the 914th Communication Squadron.