High in the saddle: Airman’s upbringing boosts her career

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jason Wiese
  • 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs
On the surface, it might seem the worlds of turning wrenches and turning sharply on horseback during a barrel race have nothing to do with one another. As Airman 1st Class Alexis Visser's story will attest, these worlds have more in common than getting one's hands dirty.

Visser, 90th Munitions Squadron reentry system/reentry vehicle team member, arrived here November 2014.

She has roots in Pequot Lakes, Minnesota, (population 2,234) where she spent much of her youth in a saddle.

"I grew up on a horse farm; I was riding horses before I could walk really well," she said, her face showing no sign of exaggeration.

She rode horses by the time she was 18 months old, she said.

Much of her time growing up was spent with horses: training them, showing them, competing in rodeo events and mentoring other youths learning to ride, she said.

Fast forward to today, Visser must show proficiency in just two more tasks in order to complete a six-month certification process to be able to repair components of the Minuteman III ICBM.

Maintaining one of the most powerful weapons in the U.S. arsenal is no small task, she said.

"It puts a lot of responsibility on your shoulders," she said.

Visser compared missile maintenance to helping kids ride: both jobs require being able to recognize potential hazards or unsafe situations and speaking up. In the worlds of both missiles and horses, safety is paramount.

Prior to graduating from Pequot Lakes High School as valedictorian, Visser showed her dedication to being a well-rounded person by being active in the 4-H Club and her church youth group. Today, she continues that dedication by continuing to be involved. Even though she has not been here during Cheyenne Frontier Days, Visser said she has attended planning meetings and volunteered her expertise by inspecting parade carriages and equipment for safety.

"It's pretty awesome how much Cheyenne supports the military and how we give back," she said.

In addition to her volunteer spirit, Visser exemplifies the whole person concept in her current educational pursuits. Because she finished eight career development courses -- which typically preclude Airmen from taking college courses -- in only 3-and-a-half months, six-and-a-half months ahead of her 10-month deadline, she has been able to further her education during down time. She is about halfway to completing a bachelor's degree in business administration, she said.

Viser gives her mother, Briana Visser, credit for how active she was growing up.

"We tried to get her involved in many different service organizations and volunteer works through church and youth organizations," Briana said.  "It was so she could experience the world, help others, be in service to others -- to see outside of the four walls of our home and community."

After high school, Alexis decided joining the Air Force was the best decision for her, Briana said.

"I was pretty excited," Briana said. "I am not from a military family, so I, quite honestly, did not know too much about the military or any sort of armed service, it was never on our radar."

The Visser family researched the decision together, Briana said.

"I always taught her to do research and make a T-chart listing pros and cons. That's how I raised her to weigh every decision: 'Should I do this? Should I be in this class? Should I date this boy?'" Briana laughed.

Alexis said one of her biggest motivations to join the military was for education benefits, hence her dedication to earning her degree.

The determination Visser has to continue education comes from her upbringing and time engaged in extra-curricular activities, Briana said.

"She's not a very emotional person," Briana said. "She keeps a real calm presence about her, and she is very task-oriented and driven. She does not let outside influences or barriers affect her that much."

Staff Sgt. Shawn Stowers, 90th MUNS team chief, agreed with this sentiment.

"[Alexis' upbringing] helped groom her for being able to handle higher level responsibilities," he said. "She is very knowledgeable. She has a great memory and tends to anticipate what we need to do next."

The transition from a life on a farm to life in a high-tech world of missiles was easy for Alexis because she loves to learn and loves looking up facts, which is something that is constantly done in missile maintenance, she said. Maintainers always have a technical order on hand when performing maintenance on the Minuteman III weapon system.

"No matter what you do, you have a book open," Alexis said, giving the impression that every word she speaks has thought behind it and every gesture is thought out well in advance. "Making something up is never going to be right. Being able to refer to the book and get it right the first time is saving the Air Force a lot of money. We give [the American public] more confidence because we always do it by the book."

"In this job, you can't have complacency, and she's proactive rather than reactive," Stowers said.

Recently, Visser's accomplishments within her relatively short time here has earned her the Diamond Sharp Award, an award given to outstanding Airmen as determined by their first sergeant.