“The first time I remember going to The Gambia, in Africa was in 2004, I was seven years old and I didn’t know much of what was going on,” said Senior Airman Arthur Leese, 555th Fighter Squadron aviation resource manager.
Leese was born in Silver Springs, Maryland, and lived with his father, mother and younger sister. Shaped by some changes in his family dynamics, Leese and his sister moved to The Gambia in Africa, but it was not long before they moved back to Gaithersburg, Maryland with their mother.
“During this time, my parents’ divorce had been finalized and they agreed my mom would have custody of my sister and I,” said Leese.
Leese moved four times during his childhood, but his mother always managed to keep him in the same middle school. As he approached his final year in middle school, Leese knew what high school he wanted to go to, but his mother had a very different plan for him.
“After telling my mom my game plan, she explained that she wanted me to move back to The Gambia,” said Leese.
At the time, Leese’s little sister had already moved back to The Gambia about a year before. His mother’s decision did not come as a complete surprise, but it still hurt knowing he was leaving everything behind, said Leese.
“I moved back to The Gambia to start the academic year in 2011,” Leese explained. “The experience made me appreciate life and [helped]not take anything for granted.”
In hindsight, Leese said he was able to appreciate the difference between the U.S. and Gambia. During his junior year in high school, Leese decided it was best to move back to the U.S. to graduate with his father in Maryland.
“It was hard to say goodbye to a place that I had lived for so long, but thinking about my future, it was the best decision at that time,” said Leese.
After Leese graduated high school he said he was unsure of what direction his life was going in, but that all changed when he took and passed the ASVAB. “I decided to do a little more research before I made a decision,” said Leese.
Leese said he spoke to his half-brother, whom he highly respected and he suggested that he should talk to a U.S. Air Force recruiter.
“My brother and father were the biggest supporters for me to join,” said Leese. “My older brother was prior military, so his advice really helped. But my father’s support really solidified me joining, and if he wasn’t there with me then I probably wouldn’t be in the military today.“
Joining the U.S. Air Force was the best life-changing decision he had ever made, it gave him a sense of purpose and a chance to make a difference in people’s lives, explained Leese.
Recently Airmen, including Leese, have been deployed to support the NATO enhanced Air Policing mission in Bulgaria. Enhanced Air Policing is part of the Alliance’s assurance measures for eastern allies.
During the NATO enhanced Air Policing mission in Bulgaria, Leese prepared the flight authorization for each pilot scheduled to fly each day and ensured each of their training requirements were up to date to be ready for a quick reaction alert. He also verifies that the radios work properly to guarantee communication with the aircrew.
Leese is one of many Airmen who play an important role in assuring the presence of U.S. fighter aircraft in Bulgaria, which demonstrates NATO nations working together, maintaining and developing effectiveness at all levels, sharing risks, burdens and costs.
“I have been lucky enough to support many different types of exercises and missions, and being able to see the impact that we have in all these other countries around the world makes me more honored to be apart or this great Air Force,” said Leese.