There’s no other way to say this. The importance of recognizing and celebrating a shero – a woman in our life who inspire us daily – cannot be understated. Particularly during May where we recognize Mother’s Day and celebrate Military Appreciation Month, there are women around us daily who set the kind of example we can all follow.
One of the ladies is Dee Montana, the chief of logistics and retail for MCEC® since January 2003. She is a leader, a friend, mother, and former service member who embodies what it means to be a shero!
She began what has become a lifelong career of helping others when she joined the British Women’s Royal Naval Service as a steward in 1980. As a “WREN,” her commitment and professionalism put her front and center with many high-ranking military leaders and members of the Royal Family, including: Her Royal Highness, Anne, Princess Royal, His Royal Highness Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, and His Royal Highness, Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh.
When her contract was complete in 1989, Dee was in Italy, and she decided to leave the service to make a career change.
She immediately opened up her pre-school, Babes and Tots, after realizing there was a need for early childhood learning in her area.
“My parents thought I was crazy, because I was a single woman going at it alone” said Dee. “But I love working with kids, and this was something I knew I needed to do.”
Dee didn’t stay single for long. She soon met Sgt. 1st Class Willie Graham, a U.S. Soldier who was stationed in Italy as a communications repair chief.
The two fell in love and soon got married.
In October 1993, the couple welcomed their first child, a girl, and named her Shanice. By the time December 1994 rolled around, the family expanded again, when they welcomed their son Deion.
Growing up overseas, Dee admitted that she never saw color. The fact she was Caucasian and Willie was African American never made a difference to either of them. However, her friends cautioned Dee that as her family prepared to move around the world, some places may not be as accepting of mixed-race couples, particularly in the U.S.
Unfortunately, Dee saw this first hand when she attended a basketball game with Willie. The people in the unit had never met her, and did not know she was Caucasian. She stated that Willie informed her the next day his captain asked him, “why couldn’t you have married your own kind?”
“At first, the women wouldn’t speak to me,” continued Dee, “and when people saw us they looked shocked.”
Over time, Dee won them over. Her infectious smile, quick wit, and acceptance endeared her to those in the unit and the small town where they lived.
With small children – who have eyes and ears – and see and hear everything, she knew that her actions during the hard times would make a difference.
“My kids saw and heard things, but I always told them to treat others how they would want to be treated,” said Dee. “We taught them to ignore ignorance.”
The Montana-Graham family spent the kids’ formative years in the Netherlands and then ended up at Fort Hood, where Willie would ultimately finish his career.
Dee admits that she had been aware of MCEC during the early years. The move to the states, where she had no family, and transitions for schools were often difficult.
“The resources we offer for kids and parents are amazing,” continued Dee. “It would have made a huge difference for all of us if we had this back then.”
Through the bumps in the road, Dee, ever the positive, smiling presence, said that there were definitely a lot of good times as a military family.
“I enjoyed traveling, meeting people from all over the world, and the kids, even though they were young, got to experience it too,” added Dee.
Dee also met life-long friend Lori Genthner while they were in the Netherlands. The two work together for MCEC and have maintained a sister-like bond for 23 years.
As the years passed, Dee’s service, as well as that of Willie’s didn’t go unnoticed by their children.
“When Deion graduated from high school, he didn’t want to go to college,” continued Dee. “So I gave him a choice – the Navy or the Air Force.”
Today, Staff Sgt. Deion Montana-Graham is moving up the enlisted ladder for the Air Force as a munitions system technician at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England.
After attending college, Shanice followed her little brother into the Air Force, too. Staff Sgt. Shanice Montana-Graham just completed Airman Leadership School, where she graduated with honors, and serves as a civil engineering-electrical power production noncommissioned officer at Minot Air Force Base, N.D.
Dee, who is one to never take the credit, realizes her service and commitment have made a lasting impression on many people. However, the one thing she is proudest of is the success her children are having as they continue the family tradition of military service.