Allison Wilkerson grew up in the same town, in the same house her entire life. Now, after graduating from Purdue this past week, she will be traveling the world working in one of the most dangerous careers imaginable.
Wilkerson, who will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force (USAF), piled up awards along the way to completing her ROTC training at Purdue. She served as the commander of the Detachment’s Arnold Air Society, an elite group within the program and was named the most outstanding commander of the 134 unites in the Midwest.
Now, she heads far from Indiana — Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas to become an intelligence officer.
“Christmas break my freshman year, I came home after being a history major first semester and talked to my parents,” recalls Allison of her journey, one that took an unexpected path from there. “I wanted to work in the FBI or CIA, and military experience helped you get into one of those. I joined the ROTC into the second semester and I kind of fell in love with it. Everyone always talks about the Air Force family, and I definitely got to experience it.”
“I was pretty touched,” said her father, Jay, upon hearing that his daughter wanted to go into the USAF. “My father is an Army veteran and their maternal grandfather also is, but neither I nor my former wife are veterans, so we were surprised. You worry a little bit. Your children are putting themselves in harm’s way, but the pride takes over.”
Allison credits her parents for her success, growing up in a household rife with expectations with an emphasis placed on hard work and no short cuts.
“My parents were hard on us with grades, and I learned early on to just do your best,” she recalls. “Once I got into higher stress leadership roles, I’d call on my friends and family and ask for support. The cadre members of our detachment were excellent as well. There were a couple nights though I’d call my parents at 2 or 3 in the morning and complain to them.”
In the fall of 2010, Allison was in the ROTC program, pledging two different on-campus groups, as well as taking 19 credit hours. She said that’s when the challenges hit their crescendo, but she plodded through, something she says will serve her well down the road in such an intense, competitive career field.
“Growing up, my parents didn’t put me into things, they let me join what I wanted,” she said. “It got me to meet new people, and I think that’s a huge part of going into the military. You can’t be shy. Doing marching band, color guard, winter guard, it helped me with the discipline aspects that I needed and helped in learning the importance of fitness that I got out of those activities.”
“She’s a very highly intelligent person and has always been very self-motivated,” adds Jay. “I think her senior year, her winter guard won the world championship, and she always took a leadership role. I think that carried over into her USAF experience at Purdue. The Detachment 220 was rated the top ROTC Detachment in the USAF in 2010, so there’s a lot of pressure to excel there and be the best.”
Now, Allison will head to Texas for a nine-month intelligence training program and isn’t sure where the USAF will have her land after that, but wherever it is, she’s ready and excited to answer the bell as needed.
“I’m just waiting for them to give me the date,” she says. “Once you get the training, you track to your permanent duty station. I like the whole idea of investigation and during my USAF classes, I’ve given a couple briefings on intelligence and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI), which I think would be an awesome goal to have down the road.
As expected, the road will be arduous with competition, something that motivates Allison, not deter her.
“It’s a very competitive career field to get into. It’s such a broad career field, but there’s so much to do, you’re never bored, and constantly learning. While I’m young and don’t have many obligations, I’m going to take that advantage. It depends on where the Air Force sends me,” she said, noting it was her love for her forensics classes that made her first think about this career path.
Allison, a law and society major, also minored in Spanish, forensic science, and aerospace studies.
“She’s always been interested in intelligence,” says Jay. “This is the first step. A lot of that will be terroristic counterinsurgency.”
But the one of the chief highlights of her young career came at the start, getting that first salute from an enlisted airman from her brother, Nate, a 2004 AHS alum who is also in the USAF.
“It was so awesome,” she said of the salute from Nate. “It was the highlight of my (graduation) day, watching his face as I walked up. He was so proud. I can’t imagine having that experience with anyone else. We’ve always been pretty close growing up, and I leaned on him a lot.”