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Council member has strong ties to Pope community

  • Published
  • By Airman Mindy Bloem
  • 43rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
As a child growing up in New York City, Valencia Applewhite never dreamed she would wind up in the Air Force, a choice that would eventually influence her decision to join the Fayetteville, N.C. City Council.

Mrs. Applewhite moved to Connecticut where she ultimately got a job at a bank. She had to rely on public transportation to take her to and from work each day. The bus stop just happened to be positioned in front of an Armed Forces recruiting station. One day she noticed a man dressed in a "sharp blue uniform" walk by her and into that recruiting station.

"I didn't know what services the different uniforms belonged to at the time," Mrs. Applewhite said.

She followed him into his office where she began to ask questions and learn about the Air Force's programs. After being tested, she signed up and left for basic training Oct. 11, 1979.

"When I was growing up, I always had a sense of adventure, and while I was working at the bank and other places, I just sensed there was something else out there for me."

Mrs. Applewhite said a moment of realization came to her when her loved ones were seeing her off at the airport before she left for basic training.

"While I was boarding the airplane, I remember looking back at all my neighbors and family and knowing I was never going to come back," she said. "And by come back, I mean never going to come back home in the way I had always known home to be."

Mrs. Applewhite has 20 years of active duty to her credit and five years as a DoD civilian. She recalled a specific incident as a young Airman which benefited her maturity process in the Air Force.

"When I was a young Airman, I missed a mandatory test date," she said. "My supervisor at the time read me the riot act. He told me to get my priorities straight. That statement stayed with me my entire career. As a supervisor, you never know the effect you're going to have on someone. I never got another letter of counseling or anything similar to that throughout my career."

One of her proudest moments came when she was stationed at Hickam AFB, Hawaii, as a student in the noncommissioned officer academy.

She was pulled out of class and told the commandant wanted to see her, she was a little nervous, but she knew she hadn't done anything wrong. He called her in to tell her she was selected to be a professional military education instructor.

"I hadn't even completed PME at that time," she said. "Also there were a lot of sharp NCOs in my class, which made me feel so proud to be selected."

Mrs. Applewhite doesn't regret a moment of her career in the Air Force and is surprised with how fast it can come and go.

"I loved being in the Air Force," she said. "I absolutely loved being a Senior NCO. My 20 years were up so quickly. I have done everything in my Air Force career from digging fox holes in Korea to putting up tents in cold weather to working on Air Force One.

"After I retired my old boss, who, at that time, worked at the Pentagon, said they really needed me there for a position in the headquarters building. The "service before self" mindset was so much in me that I decided to go." She went in May 2000.

Mrs. Applewhite said after five and a half years, the job they asked her to do was done and more. She said it was time for her to move on and returned to Fayetteville in 2005.
Mrs. Applewhite came back home to North Carolina under different circumstances from what she was used to in the past.

"At first, I wasn't really sure what I was going to do," she said. "People thought I was crazy -- I had no job but I had some savings, so I decided to get my real estate license."
It was not until a neighbor suggested she would make a great city council member that she decided to take on the world of politics.

"My neighbor thought I would be ideal for the job considering I was not only a Fayetteville resident but had Air Force experience as well," she said.

The fact that Mrs. Applewhite has had 20-plus years of military experience is something some people think will prove to be a valuable asset for Pope members.

"It's great to have someone with your military background in a position of leadership within the community," Col. Timothy Zadalis, 43rd Airlift Wing Commander, said to Mrs. Applewhite during their introduction.

"Even after almost 10 years since her retirement from the Air Force, Mrs. Applewhite continues to uphold the Air Force core values," said Master Sgt. Tywanna Frazier, 43rd AW judge advocate.

" 'Integrity First'": she has never compromised her beliefs or her position for the sake of getting ahead.

"'Service before Self': the fact that she stepped out on faith to challenge an incumbent who had been in office for 10 years, states that she wanted a chance to serve the people of Fayetteville and a chance to make a difference.

"'Excellence in all we do': she has committed herself to being a part of the change Fayetteville needs in order to successfully support the base realignment and closure transition. She knows the road ahead will be challenging but she is committed to its success," Sergeant Frazier said.

"Fayetteville is changing with the base realignment and closure," Mrs. Applewhite said. It's important to have the right leadership in place -- leadership that understands the military. Military is important. People can't do things the same and expect different results. Fayetteville needed new leadership. The district was ready for change, and someone who would listen to the needs of the community.

"Mrs. Applewhite will be good for the Pope community for several reasons," said Sergeant Frazier. "Pope is 'home' for her. She spent five years here prior to her retirement from active duty, and she has roots here. She has seen Pope grow during her active duty years here, from the new dining facility to the new fitness center.

In addition, there are several members on the board who are retired Army or who are affiliated with the Army. Those members have a vested interest in looking out for the (Fort) Bragg community. She is the only person on the city council who has an Air Force background and hopefully she can be a voice for the Pope community.

Mrs. Applewhite has been so affected by the Air Force's core values that she even implemented "service before self" as part of her campaign slogan.

She resides in Fayetteville with her husband and two sons.