Tonita Webb is a planner.
“I can map my whole life out,” says Webb, executive vice president and chief operating officer at $896 million asset Seattle Credit Union.
But while enlisting in the U.S. Air Force and becoming a military police officer weren’t part of her plans, that’s the path Webb has taken, teaching her many lessons along the way.
While in college, Webb joined the Navy Reserve Officers Training Corps and wondered how she’d pay for school. Hoping to avoid student loan debt, she joined the military in 1989.
But instead of joining the Navy, she opted for the Air Force because it was the shortest basic training and would allow her to return to Hampton University for her fall semester.
“I had this plan in my mind,” Webb says. “I could get through basic training in the summer and come right back to school.”
What wasn’t part of that plan was a two-year wait list for the Air Force. However, Webb learned one job was available immediately: police officer.
“I had never touched a gun and never fired a gun, but here I was, going to be a police officer,” she says. “It was the opposite of everything I had been taught to be.”
Her plan to return to college was also tossed when Webb received her orders to Berlin, Germany, where she patrolled the city and base, and “legit carried a gun.”
When Operation Desert Storm began in 1991, Webb remained on base in Berlin in support of the mission, including checking vehicles for bombs. It was an experience her upbringing didn’t prepare her for, but her military service taught her how to handle.
Military service “taught me how to be flexible and how to think on my feet and in my fear,” Webb says. “I’d been taught how to make a mean turkey, but never how to persevere through checking a vehicle for a bomb.”
As one of only a few female police officers and the only Black woman on base, Webb’s time in the Air Force also taught her how to work through differences that exist among team members.
Webb ended her service with the Air Force in 1993 as a sergeant to focus on her family. But the lessons she learned while serving allowed her to explore and advance the ideas of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.
“I don’t think that would have happened if I had not gone into the military,” Webb says. “It showed me the strength I didn’t know I had.”