Cleveland native, 2008 CHS grad, promoted to Air Force major

Shawn Owens, USAF major (retired), administers the oath of office to Air Force Major Heather McKeand at a special ceremony on Saturday, Dec. 3, at Cleveland High School.

A pinning ceremony for U.S. Air Force Major Heather McKeand, a Cleveland native, was held on Saturday, Dec. 3, at Cleveland High School where McKeand graduated in 2008. Before her family members, friends, former Air Force JROTC instructors at Cleveland High School, University of Houston and Texas A&M University, and current CHS JROTC cadets, McKeand, now 33, vowed to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies – foreign and domestic, and that she would faithfully discharge the duties of her office.

McKeand is the first military officer to be produced by the Cleveland High School Air Force JROTC Unit. She joined the Air Force 10 years ago after first obtaining her bachelors degree at the University of Houston. Upon graduation from U of H in 2013, she earned the rank of second lieutenant and then first lieutenant, the latter of which is the step just below the rank of major.

Initially she worked in Air Force intelligence before becoming a ROTC instructor at Texas A&M University. She now is setting her sights on become a unmanned aircraft pilot for the Air Force.

U.S. Air Force Major Heather McKeand’s new bars as major are pinned on by her mother, Leeann McKeand (left), and Sherri Levan, USAF colonel (retired).

“I have wanted to fly since I saw the F-16 Thunderbirds at the Houston Air Show when I was a sophomore in high school. I was told I was too short and that I would never fly an airplane. I now have 40 hours in a plane because I can fly,” she said. “It doesn’t have to stop you; you just might have to find other ways. If you want something bad enough, and if you have the drive and determination, nothing will stop you.”

Her latest service commitment has her remaining in the Air Force a few more years, though McKeand is determined to retire after 20-plus years and with the rank of colonel.

“My goal is to be a O6 colonel like Col. James Meyer,” said McKeand. Meyer, along Sgt. Ronald McIntyre, were the Cleveland High School JROTC instructors during the years that McKeand was in high school. Both were in attendance at her pinning ceremony.

McKeand credits Meyer and McIntyre for setting her on the right path for her military career.

“These two gentlemen right here instilled so much in me. I wouldn’t be where I am without them. I love you both and I am beyond thankful for you,” she said.

Speaking to the current cadets in the CHS program, she encouraged them to power through even the most difficult obstacles in life.

“I failed JROTC the last six weeks of my first semester in high school, but the next year I turned it around. Do you know how many officers have been produced by this unit since it was established? Three. I am the first one. It is not easy but it’s possible,” she said. “This is what changed my life. I know it’s a cliché, and you have heard it all the time, but if it wasn’t for JROTC, I wouldn’t be standing here today.”

When asked if she ever sees herself following in Col. Meyer’s footsteps and working as an instructor for the CHS JROTC program, McKeand said, “I wouldn’t turn it down if offered a position at Cleveland High School in the future.”

Meyer and McIntyre watched proudly as McKeand was pinned during the ceremony. Afterward, Meyer, now retired and living in White Oak, Texas, said he saw the day coming for McKeand long ago.

“As her instructor in high school, I am so proud of where she is today. I was fortunate to administer her oath as a second lieutenant at the University of Houston. I am really honored to have been a part of that and to have been a part of this ceremony today. It really is a big step in her career,” Meyer said. “I knew it would happen. If am still around when she makes it to colonel, then I will be happy to be there for the next ceremony.”

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Before creating Bluebonnet News in 2018, Vanesa Brashier was a community editor for the Houston Chronicle/Houston Community Newspapers. During part of her 12 years at the newspapers, she was assigned as the digital editor and managing editor for the Humble Observer, Kingwood Observer, East Montgomery County Observer and the Lake Houston Observer, and the editor of the Dayton News, Cleveland Advocate and Eastex Advocate. Over the years, she has earned more than two dozen writing awards, including Journalist of the Year.

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