For Dee Dee (Wildhaber) Mehmert-Cryderman, an opportunity has never been something to ponder but rather an object to pursue, taking full advantage of whatever it has to offer. As the 1974 Helias graduate shared, the military once offered such a prospect.
"Times were tough back in the '70s," said Mehmert-Cryderman, 57, Jefferson City. "There wasn't a lot of money for things like an education."
With an eye toward obtaining a college degree but lacking the funds to accomplish such, Mehmert-Cryderman resolved to enlist in the military.
"The day I graduated (May 23, 1974), I joined the Guard," she said.
For several months, she worked as a state employee at the Missouri National Guard Headquarters, awaiting the arrival of her basic training reporting date. The position - producing military maps - aligned with the military job she would soon train for, and was one of only a few open to female soldiers at the time.
After completing her "all-female" basic training at Fort McClellan, Ala., in the fall of 1974, she traveled to Fort Belvoir, Va., for offset pressman school, where she spent the next 11 weeks receiving formalized instruction in working with the machines on which maps were laid out and printed.
Upon her return to Jefferson City in early 1975, Mehmert-Cryderman was assigned as a part-time, traditional Guardsman with a local unit, but continued working full-time at the state headquarters.
However, just months later, she received experience outside of her earlier map-making training when transferring to a different unit.
"I moved to Omaha and joined the 134th Infantry," Mehmert-Cryderman said. "For the next four years, I served as their unit administrator."
Returning to Jefferson City in the early 1980s, the young soldier served with several local units, the most recent of which was the 35th Division located at the Blue Armory on St. Mary's Boulevard.
"This was back around the time when everything was transferring over to computer," which, she explains, provided her with experience in data and recordkeeping that has benefited her in later years.
But the soldier was struck with a realization in 1989 - a reminder that she had fallen off track and needed to redouble her efforts to finish the one thing for which she had first sought assistance by joining the Guard.
Leaving her full-time position, Mehmert-Cryderman remained a drilling soldier with the National Guard (allowing her to continue to accrue credit toward retirement), and returned to college to focus on finishing her degree.
In 1992, she graduated with her bachelor's degree from Lincoln University and three years later retired from the Missouri National Guard at the rank of master sergeant (E-8).
The retiree then began the process of applying both the skills attained in the military positions she held and her recently completed education when embarking on a second career - this time in the real estate business.
Working her way up from salesperson, Mehmert-Cryderman has approached the pinnacle of her chosen career field when, in 2006, she opened her own agency: The Mehmert Group Realtors. This April she will celebrate 22 years in the real estate business.
Now a board member on the Jefferson Board of Realtors, the retired Guardsman is also a member of the Roscoe Enloe American Legion Post 5 and supports many veteran-centric events with the American Legion Riders.
Though Mehmert-Cryderman acknowledges the financial assistance provided by the National Guard in attaining her educational pursuits, she is most grateful to have witnessed firsthand the changing roles of women in the military.
"The attitude with regard to women in the service has really changed considerably from when I first joined," said Mehmert-Cryderman. "Being a woman in a man's world, it really opened my eyes - it taught me to keep my eyes and ears open and to learn all around me."
With a tone of certainty, she added, "It really provided me with the drive to be a hard worker, to be willing to get my hands dirty ... to not be afraid to prove myself."
Jeremy P. Ã„mick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.