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Moments in Time: Col. Janel Keizer
Janel Keizer. To order this photo, click here. (Times photo: Marissa Weiher)

Moments in Time

Moments in Time is a weekly series featuring recollections of area residents. To suggest someone to feature in Moments in Time, please contact Mary Jane Grenzow, editor, at

MONROE - Any stay-at-home moms who feel like they might not be able to have it all should hear the story of Monroe's Janel Keizer. She has not only created leaders in the military as an Air National Guard colonel - but in her home with her three children as well.

From homeschooling, earning her master's degree and spending more than three decades in the military, being deployed and earning herself a Bronze Star, Keizer is still looking to serve, reflect and spend time with her family and military family.

Keizer was born as the youngest of four children at an Air Force base in Kansas while her father was active duty. The family moved to Eagle when she was 3. Her father retired from the military in 1967, so she's only heard stories about moving often and living the military-family lifestyle.

In 1969, at age 5, Keizer's mother, grandmother and oldest sister were killed in an automobile accident.

She attended elementary school in Eagle and then attended Palmyra-Eagle High School. Keizer was an avid reader, and her stepmother, who she very much considers her mother, was a volunteer librarian. She recalls growing up and spending her summers in trees reading books. She did well in school, played the flute, was active in the library club and ran track.

The 1982 graduate said she always knew she would go to college. Keizer wanted to also honor her father and his 20-plus-year Air Force career. She became interested in the National Guard, a way to be part-time in the Air Force and receive some school benefits. She enlisted that summer.

She took on the career field and became an Inventory Management Specialist in the Guard. She turned 18 in basic training and headed for Colorado. Her trip there was the first time she had been on an airplane.

The transition was a tough one at first, she said.

"It was a shock to me," she said. "I wasn't used to people yelling at me. I was emotional calling home that first time."

But eventually she settled in and identified with the mountainous region. Keizer would hike in the Rockies on her days off and got her first real taste of independence from her family. She enjoyed the Airman's Club on base, a safe place to meet people and have fun, and said her idea of diversity was blown apart.

"Joining the Air Force really opened my eyes to all the different kinds of people there are," she said.

School came somewhat easily for Keizer, and she attended a technical college while in Colorado. She was home by November of 1982 and enrolled in the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in the spring of 1983. She graduated from there in 1986 with a degree in psychology/ personnel management. Her final year in college, she became a Christian after attending Bible study with people on campus. It was also where she met her husband, Al.

Once Keizer graduated in December, her brother, a major in the Army stationed in Germany, asked her to be his nanny for his new baby. She had taken three semesters of German in college and loved being there.

Al proposed after her return from Germany. They were married in August of 1987. He was on his way to becoming a physical therapist but decided he would also enlist in the National Guard, and together they served for six years.

The couple lived in Madison for a while, but soon Al landed a job in Monroe. It wasn't long before Keizer decided she wanted to homeschool her children. She said it isn't for everyone, but she has no regrets.

"I'm so glad I did it - I think it really helped bond us as a family," she said.

Leaving once a month for the Guard was her opportunity to get away, speak intelligently and obtain different positions, she said. In 1987, she was chosen to be an officer and was sent for training in Tennessee. It was a big accomplishment for the second lieutenant.

The stay-at-home, homeschooling mom was a military commander, living a life not many understood. She watched, however, as the world changed. In 2003, Keizer learned she would be deployed that March.

The news brought some disarray to her family. The children were enrolled in public school and childcare was set up for her youngest son, John.

"The school system - and the teachers in particular - were fabulous," she said. Her son Sam's teacher even saved photos and his work and mailed it to her - something that meant the world to her as a mother so close to her children. Al and others also sent her things regularly.

Keizer was a commander of a unit in Madison at the time and the team was sent to three different countries. Her three-person team was sent to United Arab Emirates where she would command a group of five teams from five different states.

She was a Services Flight Commander and soon became a Service Squadron Commander for the 486 Air Expeditionary Force. Keizer was managing the food, water and other necessities there for several hundred people. In Saudi Arabia, they started building the base and a dining facility where, for security reasons, the staff could cook on-site. Keizer worked out leases, contracts, lodging, fitness - the amount to do was almost overwhelming. But she worked through it, and with her team they also found ways for each other to lead a more balanced life, instead of working continuously.

"I had an amazing team that really pulled together and we worked so well together," she said. "(The deployment) helped define who I am today."

She had orders for a one-year deployment, but she and her group didn't know exactly how long they would be gone. After five months, she learned she would return home in August of 2003. The adjustment was difficult, but the support was overwhelming.

Her son John was ready to start school but Keizer kept him home after feeling she had missed too much time with him. She said community support was overwhelming, including help from their church.

Keizer received a Bronze Star for her time overseas and her work on the deployment, but she said she felt it was undeserved solely to her - since she worked with her team, and they deserved it just as much.

Eventually, Keizer fell back into the life she had made before her deployment, staying kind and humble - and close to her family.

"I had amazing church and friend support," she said, noting that people threw her sons' birthday parties in her absence and a tribe of friends and groups stepped in to be there when she couldn't.

Keizer would return to homeschooling for a while until eventually the boys went to public school and she changed roles again - this time to a soccer mom.

"When you're a stay-at-home mom, you know what you're doing is important," she said. "Raising leaders is the most important thing we can do."

But Keizer still felt a need to do something meaningful after the boys were in school and soon joined the Green County Homeless Prevention Coalition. She was hired as the coordinator for two years while earning her master's degree in library/information studies from University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In January of 2013 she got a job working for Crossroads Community Church as a part-time assistant. She's also been involved for the past three years with the American Legion in town and said she hopes to help the group plan for its future and help let the community know all it does for veterans.

"When you join the military you take an oath - and that oath sets you apart from other people," Keizer said. The commitment required and the service-before-self concept is engrained in her and a commonality she shares with others who have done the same. And that oath spills out into the community.

Keizer currently serves as president of the Friends of the Monroe Public Library Board and is always looking for opportunities to support the library in the community and literacy. She also served on the Family Promise Board through her church for a while and was very active in the church youth groups. She's now the parent coordinator for the soccer program and has also served as a community speaker and has traveled to speak about her deployment and her life. She also spent time as a library helper at Monroe Middle School and was involved with Awana Youth Ministries and Meals on Wheels.

Keizer eventually changed positions with the Guard in Madison and became the Medical Group Commander, leading about 100 people, which required more than one weekend a month. The career has been rewarding, but retirement is looming as she reaches her mandatory separation date for the military.

One of her biggest accomplishments is creating a culture of intentional leadership development and encouraging the next leaders to continue that.

"I feel as though I've made a good contribution," she said. "I feel confident the future is secure for them."

But Keizer isn't one to sit back and relax too much. She's looking forward to visiting her sisters more often and spending time with her three sons, Sam, Jesse and John, as well as Al. She still loves to read and travel and took a librarian's tour of Scotland in 2012. The entire family went to Germany in 2013. This year they're headed to San Diego, and she loves nothing more than having her family alongside her on vacation.

They're also living the service-before-self lifestyle and are becoming leaders themselves. Sam is following in her footsteps and has joined the military, something that makes her proud.

"They make me laugh until I cry," she said of her sons.