Michelle Dee has been something of a gypsy both in where she resides and in her career, but in the Imperial Valley — and more specifically at Naval Air Facility El Centro — she has found a more permanent connection.
In a word, after years of finding herself on the move, she is home.
Dee is the public affairs officer for NAF El Centro, a daunting task, as she is a one-person public outreach operation on a base that employs more than 600 people, both military and civilian, a base where the population in any given week can swell as military training programs bring detachments from around the country, and the world for that matter, and a base which annually hosts the largest one-day communitywide event in the Valley.
Her role is to tell the story of NAF El Centro, from its mission within the Navy to its impact in the Imperial Valley, to the community. It is a challenge she takes seriously, and one she looks forward to facing each day.
“I’m a person who really likes a challenge, and I have finally found a job that fits my personality,” says Dee, interviewed from her office in the base’s administration building. During the interview, her office door remains open, and there are interruptions as military personnel stop in to ask her questions about an event or to comment on next year’s air show.
Dee, who earlier in her life served in the Army, is a civilian staff member who has been the base’s public information officer since 2006. It is a role the 41-year-old wife and mother of two sons, Conor, 7, and Cian, 4, says she truly believes in and looks forward to continuing to do into the future.
She is quick to point out just why she believes so much in the Navy base and her role on behalf of the base.
Dee is also quick to point out that her path to reach this point in her life has been somewhat unusual.
In fact, the concept that she has been a gypsy is her own characterization of a life that has involved a great deal of travel starting from her youngest years as the daughter of a father whose career led him to distant shores.
Dee was born in Venezuela, where her father’s career in international finance, had led the family.
Spanish, she says, became her first language.
Her father’s career also led the family to Hong Kong before they moved back to their native Scottsdale, Ariz., when Dee turned 5.
Dee spent the rest of her youth in Arizona until graduating high school at which time she enlisted in the U.S. Army. She served four years and in that time, because of an aptitude she showed in language development, she was sent to a linguist-training program where she was immersed in learning Farsi, the primary language of Iran. Her language skills were then put to use in military intelligence as an intercept operator.
After the military, Dee went on to attend college, earning a bachelor’s degree in business from Arizona State University in 1997. After earning her degree she first worked for Boeing as a supply chain manager attached to the Apache Long Bow military helicopter project.
But her career would soon take a different path.
Her husband Mike, whom she married in 1995, works for U.S. Gypsum and his career led them to a community in northern Nevada where Dee became a teacher in a small school district.
Then, in 2005, life brought them to the Valley.
Mike Dee was named the operations manager at the U.S. Gypsum plant in the Imperial Valley, and Dee found work at NAF El Centro putting her business degree to work in marketing for the base’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation program.
In 2006, as the base changed its public affairs officer position from military to civilian, Dee was named to the position.