LAWTON, Iowa | While some of her family members served in the military, Vicki De Witt wasn't initially sure that was the right path for her.
After graduating from South Sioux City High School in 1979, the then-Vicki Gill "wanted to do something with travel," so she took some courses in airline reservations. But she quickly noticed that airline jobs were on a downward trajectory, so she reconsidered.
"My Dad served in the Navy, my sister was in the Army," De Witt said. So, she followed that lead and joined the Army Reserves in Kansas City in 1981.
That ultimately led to a military career that ran to 2012, when she retired as Chief Master Sergeant of the 185th Air Refueling Wing, Iowa National Guard in Sioux City. She retired as an E-9, the highest rank an enlisted member could attain: "I was kind of proud of that."
De Witt, now 56, looked back and said it didn't take long to see she'd found her life's work.
"It was right away. When I got into basic training, it was an adventure. It was hard, of course," she said. "I just needed to grow up, and it was good for me."
The seventh of 11 children, De Witt became vocal -- "my dad would say I was mouthy" -- to make sure she got her points across. In a big family, she also learned the value of hard work, saying, "You learn that if you want it, you have to earn it."
De Witt said that same lesson applies in the military: "Show up, do your job and do it well."
She moved back to Sioux City in 1983, but found that women couldn't serve in the Army Reserve infantry unit so she veered to the Air National Guard. By November 1983, she moved to a full-time position in the 185th, first in the publication distribution office.
Over her nearly 30 years in the 185th, she had many roles, as a public health technician, a maintenance administrative job and in the human resources department, which is known as Force Sustainment in military language.
De Witt liked the job diversity.
"When I got something up and running, I thought of new adventures, things I thought I would be good at," she said.
1 of 21
Kathleen Osterman does a plank in a studio at Northwest Iowa Community College in Sheldon, Iowa. Osterman, a Vietnam War veteran who served as an operating room nurse in Da Nang, teaches yoga classes in Sheldon and Sibley, Iowa, where she resides. The Storm Lake, Iowa, native served 23½ years with the U.S. Army and Army Reserves.
Veteran Lois Wright walks her dogs, Rocco and Leah, in front of her rural Moville home in late October. Wright served in the U.S. Navy in information technology and is currently commander of the Wink-Sparks American Legion Post No. 303 in Moville, Iowa.
Veteran Lee Ann R. (Parker) Muilenburg works as a certified nursing assistant in the intensive care unit of Mercy Medical Center-Sioux Cit. Muilenburg enlisted in the army in 1981 when she was 17-years-old.
Veteran Angela Miller is shown at the USD Barnes & Noble bookstore that she manages on the campus of the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. Miller served in the U.S. Army and comes from a military family, noting how she's an "Army brat, Army soldier, Army wife and Army mom."
Veteran Roberta Pendleton, 99, leans on her walker while sitting for a photo in her Sioux City apartment. Pendleton, whose maiden name was Stock, served as a Navy WAVE from 1942 to 1945 and left the service as a full lieutenant.
Army veteran Jen Steele rolls a bowling ball down a ramp at Regency Square, where she is employed as director of life enrichment. Steele enlisted at age 17 after seeing news footage of the 9/11 terror attacks and said leadership skills learned in the military made her able to do the job she has at the retirement community.
Army veteran Cynthia Aden handed out American flags along the parade route at a combined VFW and American Legion entry in the University of South Dakota's annual Dakota Days homecoming parade. Aden served in the Army from 1975 to 1978 and is Clay County, South Dakota's, veterans service officer.
Veteran Nadine Ruden clutches a Quilt of Valor in the sewing room of her rural Hinton, Iowa, home. Ruden estimates she's created about 20 quilts, but prizes the Quilt of Valor that a friend had made for her. Ruden served as a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve from 2008-2017 and was deployed to Germany for a year treating wounded soldiers.
Mapleton, Iowa Mayor Donna Shaw said her military uniform continue to her pride. A 21-year U.S. Navy veteran, she said all young people should spend at least one hitch in the military because it will teach them discipline, determination and the importance of teamwork.
Vera Varner, 84, co-owns a Pronto gas station in Ida Grove, Iowa. The Air Force veteran worked in the Pentagon in the 1950s as a teletype operator.
Molli Griffin, pictured in her classroom at Kingsley-Pierson High School, where she teaches biology and agriculture, served a one-year tour of duty in Iraq as a member of the Army Reserves. Griffin, who discharged from the Reserves this summer after 15 years of service, is raising a puppy for Partners for Patriots, an organization that provides service dogs for disabled veterans.
Army veteran Ranae Reed plays with Valentine, her 11-year-old German shorthair dog, at her home in Sioux City. Dogs were an important part of her service while deployed in the DMZ in Korea -- both as companions and as unofficial guard dogs. Reed served from 1980 to 1995 as a nuclear, biological and chemical defense specialist.
Navy veteran Marjorie Culligan is shown with her poodle, Allie, during an interview in her Sheldon, Iowa. Culligan, 93, is a Navy veteran of WWII and Korea.
Lynette Kiger left her hometown of Akron in 1975 to join the U.S. Air Force, which provided her with an abundance of opportunities she wouldn't have had otherwise. She returned home in 2014 and joined Akron EMS, a volunteer ambulance service that serves the town of nearly 1,500, and became the group's director in 2016.
U.S. Coast Guard veteran Mary Lou Guthridge, of Moville, Iowa, is shown with her motorcycle on Oct. 4 at Stone State Park in Sioux City. Guthridge is an American Legion chaplain and Legion Rider. She was one of the veterans featured in the "Women in the Military" exhibit that is retired Wednesday in a reception at the Betty Strong Encounter Center in Sioux City.
Veteran Virgina Linneman helps residents play Uno on Friday at Pleasant Acres Care Center in Hull, Iowa. Linneman, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, keeps active in the community though the Sioux County Veterans Affairs Commission and by volunteering at the care facility.
Veteran Brenda Miller at her rural Hinton, Iowa, farm. Miller served in Saudi Arabia when her U.S. Army reserve unit was activated. She is currently the chairwoman of the Plymouth County Veterans Affairs Commission and has served as a poultry superintendent at the Plymouth County Fair.
A runner and a walker of the nature trails that surround her Sergeant Bluff home, Woodbury County Commission of Veteran Affairs executive director Danielle Dempster said her own stint in the U.S. Army was just the beginning of her service to fellow veterans.
Veteran Margaret Jessen talks about her service as a Marine during World War II. Bored living in Homer, Neb., after her high school graduation, Jessen said she enlisted in 1944 because she "wanted the action."
Vicki De Witt, a retired member of the 185th Air Refueling Wing, is shown in her home near Lawton, Iowa on Wednesday. De Witt served in the Army Reserves and Air National Guard during a military career that spanned 31 years.
World War II veteran Claire O'Brien sits in her Sioux City home on Thursday. O'Brien, 95, logged more than 2 years, 6 months of service after enlisting with the U.S. Naval Reserves W.A.V.E.S., which represents Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. After the war, O'Brien returned to college and spent her career as a high school teacher and counselor.
She went overseas for two main deployments, back when the 185th was still a fighter squadron, before the change to a refueling wing. One deployment was in Germany and the other to Saudi Arabia. The latter most concerned her family because it came in October 2001, a month after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.
The Saudi Arabia-based operation involved guard members handling tasks toward keeping Iraqi aircraft from getting into off-limits places. There ultimately was no danger for De Witt.
De Witt and her husband, Rocky De Witt, a Woodbury County supervisor, live in rural Lawton. She is a senior consultant services representative in the Sioux City office for U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.
De Witt is proud to see her son, Chase Gill, has joined the 185th, continuing her family's military tradition.
"He says I pushed him in the right direction...Maybe there is something in the blood. I think it is good to serve your country," she said.