The Keller family adds to the Christmas tree theyve set up in the living room of their new home being built off East Poppy Lane, for possibly the last holiday they will all be together. Heidi and Bill II, at left, are off to military training prior to being commissioned as lieutenants in the Air Force and Army, respectively. Parents Carol and Bill lend a hand.
Photo by Phil Hermanek
For one central Kenai Peninsula family, Christmas this year is something other than simply having the kids home from college.
This year, the annual holiday school break may be the last time in some years to come that the whole Keller family, Bill, Carol, Bill II and Heidi, will all be together.
In May, Bill Keller II will graduate from Virginia Military Institute and will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Two years later, his sister, Heidi, is scheduled to graduate from West Virginia University and be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force.
Both Keller children began life in military hospitals as the elder Bill Keller spent nearly 20 years in the Army, retiring as a sergeant first class.
After wrapping up his career in Fairbanks, Keller moved the family to the Kenai Peninsula where young Bill and Heidi attended Soldotna High School.
Because of his father’s career path, Bill II decided on an Army career, and also because of the manner in which his father served as a noncommissioned officer the younger Bill set his sights on being a commissioned officer.
Heidi Keller’s decision to enter the military also has roots to her father, but not so much for his military career.
In 1998, the elder Bill suffered a severe leg break in an accident outside his Sterling home that eventually led to his leg being amputated.
“Some of my interest in going into the medical field came from watching what the nurses did for my Dad,” Heidi said.
“Also, when I was training for my first job (as a certified nursing assistant) at Heritage Place, I had one patient die while I was holding his hand. I wanted to get into (nursing) to see what else I could do,” she said.
Heidi signed up for the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps at her university and now is enrolled in the nursing program there while attending on an Air Force scholarship.
Bill II, who is attending college on an Army scholarship, will be assigned to helicopter flight school at Fort Rucker, Ala., immediately upon graduation May 16.
The 22-year-old history major actually assumes his commission as a lieutenant May 15.
“I plan to be there to pin on his bars,” said the elder Keller on Monday.
When asked if the retired sergeant will have to salute his officer son, the elder Keller said, “Oh yeah. I want to be the first.”
Carol explained it is a military tradition that the first person to salute a new lieutenant must be given a silver dollar by the honored officer.
Bill II said he decided to go into the military while a sophomore in high school.
“I ran cross country and I felt I never really did anything that stands out on its own. I always accomplished things as a member of the team,” he said.
In fact, the SoHi cross country team won three championships while Bill II was a member.
Being in the Army, he would always be a member of a team, he said.
He signed up just three months after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001.
“It didn’t make sense to me to back out when the country was involved in something like that,” he said.
Upon graduation from VMI, Bill II will need to serve a nine-year commitment in the Army four years due to receiving a ROTC scholarship, two years for receiving flight training and three years for receiving an agreed-upon career choice.
“Right now, I’m thinking about a 20-year career,” he said.
Besides putting in between 40 and 60 hours a week in her nursing program studies, Heidi volunteers at her church’s Mothers of Preschoolers program twice a month, she plays flag football for her Air Force ROTC team, has been a member of the ROTC color guard for two years and sings in the university choir, performing at sporting events and ceremonies in Morgantown, where the university is situated.
Nursing study also puts Heidi in Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown where she completes clinical training.
As part of her Air Force officer training, she is required to complete a leadership lab program and an Air Force class that teaches military customs, courtesy, history and procedures for briefing senior officers.
Heidi initially was contacted about a pre-nursing college scholarship by the Army, but declined, and later accepted the Air Force scholarship after being admitted into the nursing program in her sophomore year.
Upon completion of her nursing degree, Heidi will be commissioned in the Air Force and will need to serve at least four years.
Both future Keller lieutenants said they believe America’s involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq is justified.
“I think taking Saddam (Hussein) out of power was the best thing we could have done for the Iraqi people,” said Bill II.
“In the long run, to put democracy in place there is a good thing.”
Heidi said, “I think our reason for being over there is justified.
“If it wasn’t dealt with, then it would have become more catastrophic if we put it off any longer,” she said.
When asked about this possibly being their last Christmas together for some time to come, Bill II said, “I look at it as a means to an end.
“I don’t think I’ve earned the right to sit back and relax yet. I need to earn what others have fought for.”
Having served in the military for 20 years, the elder Bill says being away for the holidays is not all that uncommon.
Carol said, “If you’re able to have kids who are able to do what they want and have the fortitude to do it, it’s wonderful.
“We’re thankful our kids are healthy and able to do this, and we’re as proud as can be.”
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