SOUTHWEST ASIA --
Every student is at some point confronted with the question of what they want to be in life.
Many professions top the wishlists and students may aspire to become firefighters, police officer, doctors or any number of other dream occupations. No matter what path they choose, it will take dedication and hard work to get to even just one goal.
Lt. Col. Heidi Gibson not only achieved, but tackles two such impressive careers at the same time. Gibson holds the titles of principal in her very own architecture firm and is the 163rd Civil Engineer Squadron commander with the U.S. Air National Guard at March Air Reserve Base, California. Currently, she is deployed to the 407th Air Expeditionary Group as the commander of the civil engineer squadron here.
“As a young girl, my dream was to become a veterinarian but shortly after volunteering at an animal shelter and seeing animals under distress I quickly changed my mind,” Gibson said. “I believe my father encouraged me to become an architect so that he could have an architect ‘handy and readily available’ at his beck and call. My family was consistently remodeling homes for resale or rent, so I basically grew up with my tool bag on my hip.”
Her military journey started with Gibson enlisting upon graduating high school. The Hemet, California, native studied at the California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo graduating in 1994.
After earning her bachelor’s degree in architecture, she applied for an officer’s position in the civil engineer squadron at March ARB.
Meanwhile, for three years Gibson interned in San Francisco, where she then began working toward her architectural license. As she gathered experience, she later was licensed and decided to start her own firm.
“I was a captain, had a two year-old child and a new born baby when I started my firm in 2006,” Gibson said. “I do not know what I was thinking at the time. How I thought this would be a good time to start an architectural firm.”
While the timing wasn’t perfect, Gibson said she went forward with her firm and succeeded against all obstacles -- despite juggling work, military requirements and a brand-new business in competitive field.
“The largest challenge with owning and running my firm was earning respect from contractors, which is male dominated,” Gibson said. “When I would go out to job sites, they would initially assume that I was the secretary coming out to take notes. Once they realized I knew what I was doing and understood construction, they quickly became my best form of marketing.”
Specializing in projects ranging widely from wineries and restaurants to religious designs such as a mosque, the quality of her firm’s work was quickly recognized in the field.
“The firm grew quickly and I began receiving projects I couldn’t do on my own, Gibson recalled. “So I reached out to a college friend to take the leap and join me. She was more than ready to take the risk.”
Gibson successfully combined two challenging careers for more than 10 years, which she has used experiences and education to positively attribute to both professions.
“These two aspects of my life have great synergy,” Gibson said. “The military has given me great leadership techniques and experiences that I take back with me to the firm. And likewise, my civilian experiences bring ideas to the table that open up solutions that otherwise might not have been thought of by fulltime military personnel that do not have the civilian experiences.
“I deal with many jurisdictions and organizations to get projects passed. These negotiation skills have come in handy,” she continued. “I also have to work with many types of engineers to design and build unique structures therefore these experiences have made it very easy for me to think outside of the box.”
At the 407th AEG, Gibson leads a civil engineer team of 260 total-force Airmen, who sustain the base infrastructure and to initiate actions for future contingencies. Despite being half-way around the world, she also continues to manage her business.
“There are many challenges when I deploy,” Gibson said. “I’m here as a squadron commander ensuring our engineers are accomplishing everyday tasks while we plan for future growth of this base. I also still must keep in contact with my high-profile clients back home and complete Air War College courses. My plate is full, but it keeps me on my toes daily.”
Gibson gives credit to her father who influenced her to set out on the paths she’s conquered. He was a local city planning director and a traditional guardsman as the commander of the same March ARB unit she leads today.
“My father told me I wouldn’t regret joining the Air National Guard, and he was right,” Gibson said. “I absolutely love it. But overall, I continue to serve and lead because I take pride in volunteering to support our nation.”