Leanne Wheeler, Veteran and Vets4Energy Chairperson

Leanne Wheeler, Veteran and Vets4Energy Chair

Leanne Wheeler is a fighter.

From serving in the United States Air Force to working to end homelessness among Colorado veterans, Wheeler has demonstrated a commitment to fighting for her community and her country.

Her position as Colorado volunteer chair of Vets4Energy is an extension of that commitment.

A decorated Gulf War era veteran, Wheeler serves as president and CEO of Good to Great Engineering and Technical Services; and founder and CEO of The Wheeler Advisory Group.

While in the Air Force, she served as a Cryptographic Equipment Maintenance Specialist. Her post-USAF career has seen her serve in a variety of positions with Raytheon Company. She also was an independent defense contractor, supporting work for a variety of classified customers with Lockheed Martin, GTE Government Systems and PRC, Inc.

Wheeler has served on a variety of non-profit and community organizations around her current hometown of Aurora, CO. That includes the Colorado Homeless Prevention Advocacy Program; the Colorado Veterans Advisory Group; the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless; and the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative.

American Security News caught up with Wheeler to learn more about her impressive career, and what she hopes to achieve in her role with Vets4Energy.

Q. Can you tell us a little bit about more about the missions of your two companies, The Wheeler Advisory Group and Good to Great Engineering and Technical Services?

The Wheeler Advisory Group was birthed out of work I was already doing in support of chronically homeless veterans, and the general homeless population. I used to volunteer with various boards and commissions to support organizational development and effectiveness initiatives. It wasn't long before this work became my primary focus, so I formed the business. I came to the aerospace industry, after serving in the United States Air Force for six years. Following a layoff during the recession of 2008, and finding it difficult to find another opportunity, I took the risk of starting up my own engineering and technical services business, so as not to lose my footprint in aerospace. The focus of Good to Great Engineering and Technical Services is to prioritize veteran hiring in the DoD and commercial markets.

Q. In the Air Force you served as a "Cryptographic Equipment Maintenance Specialist." That sounds fascinating and many of our readers probably have no idea what that is! Can you share what this job entailed, and perhaps how long you served in the USAF?

My role as a Cryptographic Equipment Maintenance Specialist is quite similar to what the IT Cyber Security folks do today. The most significant difference is that the equipment was much larger and maintenance required a much bigger tool box. Must like present day, women and minorities were sorely underrepresented in what was original STEM work. I served in the Air Force for six years, finishing up shortly after Desert Storm.

Q. Where did you serve in the Gulf War?

I served on a secure mission and in a secure location. As the old adage goes … if I told ya', I'd have to kill ya'.

Q. I noticed from your bio that you previously worked with Raytheon Company and among your various civic pursuits, served on the Raytheon Company Integrated Defense System's President's Culture Initiative. Can you tell us more about that initiative?

The President's Culture Initiative (PCI) was a business strategy conceived by the Raytheon IDS President, Dan Smith, to systematically change the business culture within IDS. It was unique in that it proposed top-down/bottom-up change with a pivot at middle-management. IDS, at the time, was a $5 billion business with about 20,000 employees on four continents. Dan's vision was to drive business growth at all levels of the organization, not just in the board room and executive conference rooms. It was imperative to include those who were actually doing the work. Roughly 80 employees were selected to participate in the leadership development and training, with the explicit expectation that we would execute in our existing roles, with changed thinking; and with the authority and autonomy to effect change for the good of the business. It was an extraordinary opportunity, thrilling work, and I have little doubt that my military history served me well in the role. These are skills and networks that I use even today.

Q. We have to ask: What do you find more challenging: Cryptographic Equipment Maintenance or ballroom dance (we noticed the latter listed as an interest in your bio)?

Love the question! Admittedly, each were challenging in very specific ways, but Crypto Maintenance was more challenging. My training, which consisted of reading and drawing schematic diagrams, circuit board component troubleshooting and repair, was a year long; evaluation exercises were somewhat similar to disarming a bomb, as the "bugs" were live and we were timed. It was extraordinary.

Dancing backwards, in heels, while trusting the lead of someone you've just met, had its own harrowing moments. Even so, it was a distant second!

Thanks for the question.

Q. So, how did you come to be involved with Vets4Energy?

I have had the privilege of working with the Colorado Clean Energy Cluster on an an initiative to introduce women veterans to career opportunities in clean tech energy. It was a project that I had to present at the Clinton Global Initiative Americas Conference in 2014.

While serving with the United Veterans Committee of Colorado Legislative Subcommittee, Amy Attwood of Vets4Energy gave a presentation on the merits of the program, in the hope that our legislative body would support the work in the state. After listening to Amy's presentation, and having the opportunity to connect with her to learn more, it made sense to become a part of the effort.

Q. What are your personal goals for Vets4Energy and what do you think are the best ways for policymakers to impact our country’s energy security in a positive way?

Energy security is a matter of national security. We will need a competent and dedicated workforce to serve in the industry. These jobs provide livable wage opportunities, and by leveraging the training in which we've already invested, our veterans can help our nation meet these emerging industry demands. I fully expect Vets4Energy to be the tool that will keep us in lock step.

As we endeavor to become more energy independent, more career opportunities will be created. If we are strategic in our policy making, we can create a just-in-time supply and demand value stream to support steady growth and development.

As real world events continue to demonstrate, our primary reliance on foreign oil comes at increasing risk. Ideally, and expectantly, the Veterans Energy Pipeline/Vets4Energy can ensure a steady and prepared workforce to ensure our country's energy security.