PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — With more than 80 career paths at the Illinois Air National Guard’s 182nd Airlift Wing in Peoria, there are many ways to serve the country. But in addition to the rewarding work, many stay for the camaraderie.

Colonel Asheleigh Gellner, Vice Wing Commander of the 182nd Airlift Wing, said her 23-year career with the Air National Guard has afforded her many opportunities, rising to the rank of second in command on the base.

“It actually has exceeded my expectations to be totally honest…I don’t really see my career as being any different than my male counterpart, except that we bring a different viewpoint to leadership and to the overall capability of the military,” Gellner said.

But she said the camaraderie and the culture at the 182nd Airlift Wing is what sets it apart from others.

“The culture is a combination of that Midwest work ethic and just the desire to give back and to serve. That’s probably the most inspiring about being here,” she said.

The 182nd Airlift Wing has been in operation in 1947 and celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.

Lt. Colonel and Pilot Justin Childers has been with the Air National Guard for 20 years. He said the training pipeline is long, but worth it.

“My favorite thing about the Air National Guard is the people that we work with out here. They’re some of my best friends. The camaraderie we have is second to none…There really is nothing better that the Air Force tosses me the keys to this big sled back here and we get to take it out,” he said.

Capt. Samantha Norville, logistics readiness officer at the 18nd Airlift Wing said working at the base “is more than a job.”

“It’s basically a second family for me. I enjoy coming to work everyday,” she said.

Norville said the number of women in the Air National Guard is growing.

“Women in the Air Force is getting more common. When I first joined there was only a couple people in the unit with me, and now we have upwards of 10 to 12 females in our unit,” she said.

In addition to the camaraderie, Norville said the work is incredibly rewarding.

“It gives you a great sense of purpose. There’s a lot of pride involved in being able help people out and get things ready to go to support the greater mission,” she said.

Sgt. Michael Olson, resource protection and electronic security manager at 182nd Airlift Wing, said he even met his wife in the Air National Guard.

“Everybody I work with, they’ve become some of my best friends – heck I married my wife out here… The people make it work out here. If we didn’t have the people that we have here, it wouldn’t be so homely,” he said.

In 2021, the 182nd Airlift Wing received their 10th Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for their work supporting the COVID-19 pandemic, civil unrest in Illinois and Washington D.C. and 2020 election cybersecurity.