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Ashleigh Howard: From Foster Care to the Pentagon

Ashleigh Howard
Ashleigh Howard ’06

As a teenager, Ashleigh Howard (Criminal Justice ’06) loved watching TV shows focused on crime and investigation. “And I loved a good mystery novel,” she said. “I spent many hours in my high school library and the library at PCC devouring many good books.” Before that, as a young girl, Ashleigh entered foster care after police officers rescued her from a horrific living situation. The experience planted a seed of appreciation for law enforcement, for the justice system as a whole, and for the idea of holding people accountable for wrongdoing.

Through all of those experiences, Ashleigh became passionate about criminal justice and was excited to see a degree program for it at PCC when she applied. “Problem solving and root cause analysis has repeatedly been a part of my career,” she said. “When I first started at PCC, I planned to go into law enforcement.”

A lot of what she recalls as a student, Ashleigh learned from former criminal justice faculty member Mr. Darrell Pope, who was also a retired Michigan State police officer with thirty years’ experience. “He was my professor in many classes over my 4 years, and has since passed,” she said. “But a large majority of my memories from the program come from him. His expertise, humor, and understanding of the nuances that come with law enforcement really stuck with me.”

Apart from “a phenomenal educational experience at PCC,” Ashleigh had the opportunity to work at Abeka as a customer service agent. “Having grown up using Abeka [in Christian school], it was a huge deal,” she said. “I was able to establish solid work experience, get an education, and make some lifelong friends, all at the same time.”

After she graduated, Ashleigh Howard enlisted in the Air Force and served as a Dari linguist for 8 years. Ashleigh’s service involved collecting information through classified techniques and equipment and then disseminating it to military and law enforcement customers.

“I wanted to go federal, so I thought joining the military as a linguist would get me a foreign language and a Top Secret clearance that would set me up for the FBI,” she said. “I did get those things but loved being in the military, so I stayed, and the rest is history.”

Although she didn’t actually enter law enforcement, “what I learned at PCC—management, government, structure, etc.—are relevant to my work today,” she said. Her undergraduate degree complimented the master’s in counterterrorism she earned from the American Military University in Homeland Security.

A picture of Ashleigh in her Air Force uniform next to a picture of her grandfather in his Air Force uniform

Ashleigh’s knack for solving things developed with her hobby in genealogy. “I came to find out that my grandfather was in the Air Force during the early 1950s when it was brand new,” she said. “Knowing that I was unknowingly carrying on a family legacy was also very exciting.”

An Air Force veteran, Ashleigh has worked as a federal contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton (BAH) for the past two years. As a Senior Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Force Readiness Analyst at the Pentagon, Ashleigh helps defend the U.S. “I split my time between the Pentagon and the Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling,” she said.

Every day, Ashleigh helps manage the Air Force ISR Cryptologic Language Analyst program for several thousand Airmen. Both in flight and on the ground, language analysts apply foreign language skills to decipher intelligence communications. “We set up the career field for success to fight for the nation,” she said. What they achieve shapes what the AF ISR Foreign Language force will look like in the future. Her responsibilities include “many engagements with agencies across the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Intelligence Community (IC), such as the FBI, CIA, and sister services,” Ashleigh said. “Additionally, I identify areas for process improvement, facilitate program optimization and modernization in accordance with DoD Strategic priorities, and work to validate mission requirements with partner agencies and subordinate units.”

“The DoD is a nuanced environment, and I would say the biggest challenge I face on a day-to-day basis is learning to navigate that environment skillfully to both accomplish what I set out to do and do it diplomatically.”

Passionate about military service and intelligence, Ashleigh Howard loves that she can continue to serve the country as a civilian. “It’s a great field to be a part of something much bigger than yourself and accomplish great and lasting things.”

Check out PCC’s Humanities department for the criminal justice major (bachelor of science degree or associate of science degree).

Read more about how God is directing and working through PCC faculty and alumni.