When Petrice McKey-Reese graduated from high school, she faced tougher choices than her classmates. As a single mom of a two-year-old boy, she had to decide what was best for her family. So she opted out of college to enlist in the U.S. Army.
“It was just too expensive to go to college and raise my son,” said McKey-Reese. “My thought was I would make some money and then maybe go back to school.”
Her decision to enlist led to a long and distinguished career with the U.S. Army where she made history by becoming the first African American women to serve as a rigger warrant officer. This month the Army Women’s Foundation will recognize that distinction when it inducts McKey-Reese in the Army Women’s Foundation Class of 2018 Hall of Fame.
“I’m still trying to digest everything. It’s very humbling,” she said. “I know it is all by the grace of God that this has happened.”
A native of New Orleans, La., McKey-Reese never intended on a long career in the military when she enlisted. It was a recruiter who guided her towards logistics, citing the few officers and lack of women in that field.
“It was a very male dominated Military Occupational Specialty,” she remembered. “I didn’t really even think about being the first African American woman. I just knew I had to do everything just right. ”
She was named the service’s first African American female warrant officer just shy of her tenth year of service and went on to receive four more promotions before retiring as a Warrant Officer 4 in 2014. Her service has taken her around the world including missions and postings in Korea, Italy, Germany, Kosovo and an exhausting rigging mission to Haiti.
“I can’t even remember how many plane loads of personnel and equipment were loaded and in the air headed there when the mission was called off,” she said. “That was the first mission that made me realize how critical an 18 hour wheels up meant!”
A favorite mission was to Uganda where her unit taught African soldiers how to resupply officers in remote areas.
“(We were) working closely with the Ugandan soldiers to test the new methods of airdrops to resupply their troops with much needed supplies,” she said. “It was soldiers helping soldiers.”
It was on another tour to Korea that McKey-Reese met and married a fellow soldier. Her husband, Eddie F. Reese Sr., is a retired Master Sergeant.
McKey-Reese retired in December 2014 just two months short of 31 years. She lives in Oklahoma where she continues to work with veterans, volunteering for the Sigma Phi Psi sorority, an outreach group established by United States Armed Forces Women that helps military families.
“My intent was to serve three years. Thirty years later I retired,” she laughed. “I was just always blessed.”