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By Airman Erika Chapa
137th Special Operations Wing
Framed on the wall of her brother’s office is the most impactful car ride taken by now-Lt. Col. Alecia Campbell, commander of the 81st Contracting Squadron, Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi — in the form of a letter.
Campbell had been recruited to play basketball at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Her older brother, now-Chief Master Sgt. Alquintin Steele, the senior enlisted leader for the 137th Special Operations Logistics Readiness Squadron, 137th Special Operations Wing, Oklahoma National Guard, drove her to the airport for her flight to Colorado Springs.
On that drive, Steele began a career-long cycle of encouragement and support that both would foster throughout the years. His encouragement that day motivated her to push through any second thoughts about her time at USAFA.
A few years later, Steele received a letter from his sister about that drive.
“We don’t really get sentimental with each other, but I thought it would be important to share with him how much he meant to me,” Campbell shared. “I didn’t want him to go without knowing how much impact he had on my life through that time.”
Campbell and Steele both have achieved remarkable ranks in their careers; however, it is just as remarkable to note the strength of the family bond that has gotten them there and their ability to support each other, despite not seeing or talking to each other every day.
Growing up, they were surrounded by a very tight-knit community of family, close friends, coaches and their church congregation who supported their goals, but most importantly they have always looked towards each other for guidance and support.
“I always knew I had somebody looking up to me, so I wanted to make the right decisions to show her another good role model outside of our father,” Steele said.
“I knew he wouldn’t steer me in the wrong direction,” Campbell added. “Anything I need I know I can call him, and he will be right there.”
The siblings grew up attending a predominantly African American school on the east side of Oklahoma City, so Campbell had to adjust to a change in demographics when she arrived at USAFA.
“It was a bit of a culture shock to go from that to the Air Force Academy, where you are the minority,” Campbell explained.
USAFA students were an average 17% female and less than 6% African American in the mid-2000s when Campbell attended, according to a study by the RAND National Defense Research Institute.
“I’m appreciative of, number one, the military, but I’m appreciative of that time at the academy because it broadens your horizons,” Campbell addresses the disparity. “It is always good to be able to get an alternate perspective versus your own.”
Steele was very proud of Campbell for graduating from USAFA and commented on the slight sibling rivalry that came with it.
“Even at her coining ceremony when she first graduated as a second lieutenant and gave me her first coin, it was like ‘You are still my little sister, and I outrank you no matter what,’” Steele recalled.
When Steele was in college, he knew he needed a way to provide for his family and made the decision to join the Air National Guard, enlisting in the 137th Special Operations Logistics Readiness Squadron at Will Rogers Air National Guard Base in 1998.
Although Steele was interested in the educational and insurance resources provided, those were not his main deciding factors.
“It allowed me a chance to go see the world as well as come home every time we were done and still be around my family,” Steele stated. “That was the main reason I joined the Guard.”
When he joined, Steele was a minority member in his military community, but has recognized a change over the years in minority representation.
“Over time we’ve grown and our eyes become more open to accept all things,” said Steele. “I think that now that we have certain people in certain positions they can start representation across the board. It makes it easier for people to believe they can actually get to those higher levels.”
In December 2022, Campbell was promoted to lieutenant colonel and decided to come back to Oklahoma for the ceremony. She wanted her family, friends and mentors to be there to celebrate her accomplishment.
“It was a time for me to show my appreciation to every person that has impacted my life in Oklahoma,” Campbell emphasized. “That was an opportunity for me to say I would not be who I am today without each of those individuals who were there.”
Steele was happy that his sister decided to have her promotion ceremony in Oklahoma, but would have attended no matter where it was held.
“Our unspoken promise we made to each other a long time ago was that we will always be there for each other’s promotion ceremonies when it is something big,” Steele voiced. “No matter where she was in the world, I would have been there for her to get lieutenant colonel.”
Campbell and Steele both set an example of leadership, not just to the people in their lives, but for all aspiring leaders by advocating for the Airman around them and proving that reaching your goals is possible.
“You can be African American or a minority and still make it to chief, or you can be female and make it to the rank of lieutenant colonel or beyond, like our 137th SOW vice commander Col. [Shelby] Dryer,” Steele expanded. “So now that I've accomplished all my goals, I need to accomplish more goals of being a better father, brother, husband and son to everybody that made the sacrifice for me to achieve where I am right now in my career.”
Throughout both siblings’ careers, their tale shows how valuable strong family bonds can be to one’s success. Campbell’s letter is proudly placed on Steele’s office wall to serve as a daily reminder of how far they both have progressed in their careers and as a symbol of the unwavering support they will give each other in the years to come.