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Reservist embodies Air Force Core Values

  • Published
  • By Jeff Melvin
  • 908th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Chaplain's assistant Tech. Sgt. Tonya Peterson has a strong desire to serve people in her unit, the tenants of the apartment complex she manages and the residents of Lithonia, Ga., where this past January she was elected to an at large seat on the city council.

Her public work is quite an accomplishment for someone who readily admits "she had no interest in politics" and even now prefers to be called a "lawmaker" because of her ingrained skepticism about politicians.

The Air Force Reserve Command sergeant and her fellow lawmakers have their work cut out as Lithonia, a tiny city of 2,200, 18 miles east of Atlanta, tries to recover from severe financial struggles following debt restructuring while trying to retain autonomy despite its close proximity to burgeoning Atlanta.

"Everything around us is changing. We're trying to adapt, catch up and move forward," she said, describing the daunting task ahead for the City of Lithonia.

The city wants to remain "uniquely Lithonia," charting its own destiny instead of being dragged along in Atlanta's wake, she said.

"My goal is to help advance the city, to help the city become its own individual entity," said the political newcomer. "We just need to annex and expand. We need to look after our own interests."

She said she was so hesitant about politics in general and her qualifications in particular that she turned down months of repeated requests from the Lithonia mayor to run for one of the four vacancies on the council.

The mayor made the offer after meeting the transplanted Florida native when he dropped in unannounced on a neighborhood watch meeting she set up for tenants of the apartment complex she managed.

She spent months of soul searching, consulting with family and friends and weighing and balancing before filing just minutes before deadline.

Sergeant Peterson came to the conclusion that she would never know what it would be like to serve on the council unless she ran for office.

"Too many times we become paralyzed with inaction because of fear," she said. "I decided to overcome my fears and pursue it.

"About 10 minutes before the filing deadline, the mayor called and asked the city clerk who was there, and the clerk told him I was," she said. "He was overjoyed."

Earlier, the mayor had pointed out that in Sergeant Peterson's civilian job as a property manager she was already running a city, dealing with citizens, contractors, budgets, etc. She was a mayor of sorts already.

That knowledge and her desire to serve helped her put her fears aside. It was the same kind of desire that led her to accept her supervisor's recommendation that she become a chaplain's assistant five years ago when Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Bob Anders asked the 908th Airlift Wing's Chiefs Group for nominees of strong spiritual background deeply involved in Christian activities to help him minister to the wing's members.

That time Sergeant Peterson needed no prodding. She readily accepted Chaplain Anders' offer to assist him after he had reviewed her records, talked to her supervisor and interviewed her.

"I had always wanted to do something like that but just didn't know how," said the 16-year unit member who after 11years in supply cross trained into the chaplain's assistant program.

Neither she nor Chaplain Anders regrets her decision. The Alabama State University graduate, who's pursuing a master's degree in divinity, has been Chaplain Anders' best assistant.

"None of my previous chaplain's assistants have had her unique combination of administrative skills and spirituality," he said. "She's the best." (AFRC News Service)