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Military Appreciation Month at 2U: From an Online Education Trendsetting Veteran to a Community-Building “Milspouse”

Written by Bannon Puckett on May 14, 2021

Related content: Branding, Diversity And Inclusion

Left: Joe Winchell in his Air Force days; Right: LaToya Brown-Diallo with her partner Ibrahima, who's active duty Army

Throughout May, 2U honors all of our active duty military and our veterans for Military Appreciation Month. We are grateful for their service all year long.

Read on for Q&As from two (of many) 2Utes with military affiliations: Joe Winchell, an Oregon-based admissions counselor and U.S. Air Force veteran who was a trendsetter in online education, and LaToya Brown-Diallo, a Kentucky-based senior student success advisor who started a group for 2Ute military spouses, as her partner is in the U.S. Army.

Joe, standing, giving a presentation to Air Force colleagues

Joe Winchell, admissions counselor II

Can you tell us about your military background?

I served for 12 years in the United States Air Force (USAF). My primary job was aircraft armament where I spent most of my career maintaining weapons systems and uploading munitions on fighter and bomber aircraft. I worked on six separate aircraft frames in my career, including F-15s, F-16s, F-22s, B-1s, B-2s, and B-52s.

I spent eight years working on active flight lines and also I served for a year in a maintenance operations control center, one year as an airman leadership school instructor, and spent two years on the command support staff. For 2Utes who have seen M.A.S.H.? I was “Radar.”

What was your favorite part about being in the military?

Traveling. Traveling was by far my favorite part of being in the Air Force. In fact, most of my time was spent overseas. I did two tours of duty at Osan air base in South Korea and two tours at Royal Air Force Lakenheath in the United Kingdom. My stateside assignment was at Edwards AFB in southern California. During my time overseas I completed deployments in the Middle East and went on many temporary duty assignments for training in Belgium, Holland, Iceland, Italy, Japan, and Germany.

During my time in the military, I also had many meaningful experiences. I flew in an F-15D fighter jet. I was an extra for many movies including Transformers, Iron Man, and GI Joe. I also completed my bachelor’s degree in psychology online—years before I joined 2U or even before 2U existed.

Why did you choose to join the Air Force?

I originally wanted to join the Marine Corps, but felt the Air Force was a much better fit for me at the time.

What does Military Appreciation Month mean to you?

Military appreciation Month and Memorial Day are a chance for me to honor the veteran who served before me. My family has a long tradition of serving in the military, going back at least four generations. One of my favorite things to do when my grandparents were alive was listen to their experiences and stories. Their stories live through me now, and I get to tell them to my daughter. I also get to share my own experiences with her.

How are you celebrating or honoring Military Appreciation Month?

I typically celebrate Military Appreciation Month by reconnecting with my military colleagues and friends. A long-held perception of military members is that we form life-long bonds, and that certainly is true for me.

Until recently, before we moved, I would visit my grandfather’s grave on Memorial Day. He was a Korean War veteran who served in the Marine Corps and Air Force. While I’m too far away to visit this year, I plan to create a new tradition to honor his memory and service.

What advice do you have to share with other 2Utes who are veterans?

Working at 2U as a veteran is extremely rewarding. I feel like we are truly valued for our life experiences. Be bold and hold to your Military Core Values. They align well with 2U’s Guiding Principles. In the Air Force, the Core Values are:

  • Integrity First (for 2U: Be Candid, Honest, and Open)
  • Service Before Self (for 2U: Make Service Your Mission)
  • Excellence in All We Do (for 2U: Strive for Excellence)

We fit well into 2U because we were trained to Give a Damn. And we never forget that.

LaToya and her family

LaToya Brown-Diallo, senior student success advisor

Can you tell us about your partner in the military?

My partner Ibrahima was born and raised in Senegal, West Africa. He is a proud Senegalese-American, serving in the United States Army. He is one of the most mentally strong and physically fit people that I know.

What are you doing to honor Military Appreciation Month?

Every day is military appreciation day in our home. As a “milspouse,” I found that one of my most important duties is to support my partner on a daily basis. The military has its own culture and ways of doing things that sometimes do not make sense to me as a civilian. Knowing that, being able to show up for my partner on those long, rough, physically demanding days is very important to me.

What does Military Appreciation Month mean to you?

Military Appreciation Month is a time for citizens and residents of the U.S. to honor those who make the sacrifice to show up and serve our country. I think it’s important for civilians, especially, to recognize that the troops who serve put a lot on the line to show up and protect us and other countries. It’s also important to know that the military does more than combat or fight in wars. Soldiers are deployed across the country and the world to work on projects, providing training and support wherever they are called and assigned to duty. I believe personally that it’s important to support our troops, despite any personal views we may have about war.

What advice do you have to share with other military spouses/partners?

Reach out to your community, whether it be family, friends, or co-workers. And if you’re a 2Ute, join 2U’s Milspouse Google Room, which I started! It can be isolating if you don't have people to turn to when you’re experiencing a lot of changes or feel lonely as a milspouse/partner. Remember, you are not alone and you are a part of something great.

What do you do to stay connected during deployment?

My partner was away at various training sessions for eight months at the start of his military career. We wrote letters and had some time on the phone. During those eight months, I tapped into our community of friends and our family for support. I also have to give a shoutout to my fellow 2Utes who were there for me during that time of major transition and who continue to be there for me now. You know who you are, and I love each of you!

Why did you create the Milspouse Google Room?

I created it because I felt the need and desire to want to connect with other current and former milspouses and partners about their experiences, and to create a way for all of us to support and share information with each other. I find that living on a military base can at times be isolating. Since most milspouses at 2U are full-time remote because of our spouses' military orders, I thought it would be great to have a milspouse group—for us to have a virtual community that we can take wherever we go in our change-of-duty station journeys.

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