By Paul Wood
URBANA — Ronnie Turner-Winston considered her role as a chapel management specialist working with soldiers during Operation Desert Storm a “sacred duty.”
If you were in Operation Desert Storm, you might have met her.Among other duties, she served a six-month deployment doing airlifts between London and Saudi Arabia processing U.S. soldiers and working on chapel services. After serving four years in the Reserves, she left the Air Force as a senior airman.
Turner-Winston continues her service as a member of the American Legion Post 559 in Champaign — for 24 years now.
She was recently elected Champaign County Council Commander. Officers will be installed Sept. 27.
“The primary mission for commanders at any level of leadership in the American Legion is membership recruitment and retention,” she said.
“It takes a large membership to support all the programs that support veterans and veterans’ causes. In addition to membership, I will also be focusing on local collaboration with other county agencies for community revitalization.”
The legion is a family affair. Her sons and grandsons are all members of the Sons of the American Legion Squadron 559, and her daughter is a member of the American Legion Women’s Auxiliary Unit 559.
As a chapel management specialist, Turner-Winston organized and managed a variety of activities.
“That could include written communications, public relations, preparation of budgets and publicity materials and management of property and equipment,” she said.
Turner-Winston grew up in the Washington, D.C., area, where working for government agencies became a family tradition. A grandfather and an uncle also served in the Army before she was born.
“I was born to a young single mother but was raised in a village that supported us both,” she said.
The University of Maryland was next.
“I started out pre-med but found out I didn’t like needles,” she said. Next was business administration.
But even working three jobs, she was short on money, and the services seemed like a good alternative for the time.
High test scores led her to the Air Force.
After basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, she went to technical school and learned to be a chapel management specialist.
During Operation Desert Storm, she spent a London deployment doing air lifts between London and Saudi Arabia.
“Chapel management was like Radar in ‘M*A*S*H,’ she said, with many chores to be completed.
But it was serious work.
“I felt honored to be bringing my brothers and sisters back to the States,” Turner-Winston said.
She was stationed at Chanute Air Force Base during the Rantoul educational center’s 1993 closure.
Turner-Winston had the choice between moving to another base or taking an early out to be in the reserves. She stayed here for family reasons.
She worked at Parkland College about eight years, then moved over to the University of Illinois, where she has managed the resident hall desk operations and supervised the student desk clerks in graduate housing for almost six years.
“I love the challenge and diversity of all of the various student interactions,” she said. She is finishing up a doctorate degree at Grand Canyon University.
In the Air Force, she had often volunteered with military commemorative events and parades.
“I volunteered because I love the pomp and circumstance of these events, and they are more reflective of what the military represents to the average citizen. It is also why I continue to participate in veterans organizations such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars,” she said.
Turner-Winston is also a lifetime member of VFW 5520 and NAACP Champaign County Branch Veterans Affairs Representative.
Do you know a veteran who could share a story about military service? Contact Paul Wood at email@example.com.