AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar. --
In a rural California town, a young girl dressed in a bright yellow uniform plays her first real soccer game. Little did she know, this moment would shape her future.
U.S. Air Force Capt. Alyson Gleason grew up on a farm in Merced, California. As a kid, she never imagined her passion for sports would open so many doors throughout her life.
According to Gleason, it all started with her family. Having so many great influences early on molded her motivation and dedication, leading her to excel both in and out of the military.
“My grandfather and my grandmother own their own businesses,” said Gleason, Space Enhancement Officer, Director of Space Forces Staff, U.S. Air Forces Central Command. “They’re still working today and they are 75, if that explains anything about my type of work ethic. My grandfather is one of those guys who’s the first one in, last one out.
“That really passed down to my parents as well,” she continued. “Watching [my dad] and my mom every day being able to balance being full time parents of four children and having full time jobs was pretty admirable.”
While working and raising four kids, her parents still found time to support and help push Gleason in the right direction. Her dad was a little harder on Gleason, and her mom would always cheer her on.
“That’s kind of a dynamic that continues on to this day,” she said. “It’s like you know you can still be better, but you should be very proud of where you came from and what you’ve done so far.”
Gleason says she is lucky to have such an amazing support system, but she also has an internal fire that keeps her on the right track.
“Since I was in high school I always wanted to be the best,” Gleason said. “Whether it was in school, in sports, and then in ROTC. I wanted to be the best cadet, or the valedictorian, and that has really pushed me in all aspects of life, including being a military officer.”
Gleason’s desire to be the best is what helped get her a college scholarship to play soccer at Stanford University.
“I was very fortunate to play on a great team,” said Gleason. “We actually won a national championship when I was a junior.”
Stanford is also where Gleason learned about the ROTC program and got started with her military career. She always knew she wanted to serve in some capacity, but didn’t exactly know how.
“I stumbled upon ROTC when I was a freshman at Stanford, and I fell in love,” Gleason said. “I was like ‘oh, this is how I can correlate my athletic prowess and my determination to be a leader and mentor people.’ Because that’s my favorite part of the job – to put someone under your wing and watch them grow.”
While some of her friends and teammates went on to play professional soccer, joining the military didn’t mean that Gleason had to give up sports.
“I was selected to play for the All Armed Forces team for soccer during my first year in the service,” she said. “It also happened to be a military Olympics year, so I got to travel to South Korea, and I was named captain there. I got to meet a lot of awesome women in all of the other services as well as the Air Force, which was quite the experience, to say the least.”
Gleason wasn’t able to participate this year while deployed, but she continues her rigorous training and hopes to get back into it after returning home.
“If that means getting up at 4:30 a.m. and going to the gym before work and then going again at 7:00 p.m., then that’s what it takes,” said Gleason. “But I love it, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
In addition to playing sports, Gleason says she also loves to teach them.
“Aside from playing sports, I would say that coaching is my favorite thing in the world,” she said passionately. “I like to mentor people, so it’s been really fun for me to develop these young girls into incredible women, both on and off the field.”
Playing sports helped shape Gleason’s leadership skills.
“If I had to correlate sports in general to what I do now as an Air Force officer, the number one thing that always comes to mind is leadership,” Gleason said. “Playing sports really taught me how to deal with different personality types, different teammates. You have to figure out how to motivate them and how we can bring all these different types of people together to form one big team and make that team successful. That’s something that you do every day in the Air Force.”
Gleason says she is definitely proud of her accomplishments so far, but wants to continue improving.
“I think there’s infinite room to keep growing as a person, as a leader, as an athlete,” she said. “I just see myself in the future working hard every day like I do now, and hopefully some new doors open up along the way. Whether it be sports, coaching, or the U.S. Space Force. Whatever it is, there’s a lot out there, and I just want to keep going.”