Military was path to career in law enforcement
Sue Van Weelden is a 53-year-old wife, mom of three beautiful, strong daughters and Memaw to three of the cutest, sweetest grandchildren. Sue is also a United States Marine, Desert Storm veteran, a five-year CrossFit coach, a four-year Rape Aggression Defense instructor, and a 21-year law enforcement officer.
Sue’s desire to become a law enforcement officer began when she was a young girl living with her grandparents in St. Louis, MO.
When she graduated high school, Sue still wanted to be a law enforcement officer but realized that she knew nothing about people or the world and had minimal life experience.
Before she was adopted, Sue had one older brother and one younger sister. After the adoption, she gained three more older brothers. Three of her four brothers served in the Marine Corps and her dad served in the Army. It took Sue about eight months working two jobs – and feeling like she had no direction – to make the decision to go into the military. She drove to the local recruiting office in South St .Louis and sealed the deal.
During Sue’s final weeks of boot camp – and after successfully completing the confidence course – she began experiencing hip pain. It was so painful that it was hard to sleep comfortably and she would wake up in excruciating pain. Sue struggled to march in formation and run. She was afraid to go to medical in fear that she would be placed on light duty and not be able to maintain her position as second squad leader or march at graduation.
Graduating from Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Paris Island in May 1990 as a United States Marine was the most prideful moment of her life. It was what she perceived as her first actual accomplishment.
Sue’s first orders would be Marine Corps Engineer School, Camp Lejeune, NC. After a 30-day leave from boot camp, she was headed back out to another 13 weeks of school. In early August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait and within a few days she received her orders and was assigned to the 8th Engineers Support Battalion, Support Company, Water Supply at Camp Lejeune. Sue received orders to be deployed to Saudi Arabia and would be leaving Dec. 10, 1990, for Operation Desert Storm. She remembers her mom asking if she was scared about going to war. Sue told her that anyone who would say they were not scared is either lying or crazy, and she told her mom that this was what she signed up for and was willing to fulfill her duties.
Sue arrived in Saudi Arabia on Dec. 13, 1990, and was bused to Port Al Jabail for a short stay. Her next stop was in the middle of the desert at another tent city. Here, she got to experience perimeter guard duty in the middle of the night. She and her fellow Marines spent their days being hauled to Port of Ras al Mishab, to set up equipment for one of the main water points. Eventually, they set up their camp at this port and remained there until the end of April 1991.
During those months at Port Mishab, Sue’s unit supplied water for all U.S. branches of service as well as many other countries’ military forces that were based in the area. During their first 10 days at this port, they experienced several air raid alerts and loud explosions within 100 yards of their bunkers. This would call for everyone to get in the bunkers and spend hours in them. Some nights they would MOP level 4 (full chemical warfare gear). They also experienced and had to work around the oil that Saddam Hussein dumped into the gulf and the smoke from the oil fires that he set.
One day, Sue received the news that a suicide bomber killed several troops guarding the gates, where her tent had previously been set up at the officers camp.
In June 1992 Sue was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps. Shortly after being discharged she was married and within a year gave birth to her first daughter.
On July 31, 1998, after two failed marriages, the birth of one daughter and the loss of an unborn child, Sue met her future husband, Joe Van Weelden. One year into their marriage, becoming a law enforcement officer was finally in her sights. She graduated law enforcement academy on July 13, 2001, and ultimately was hired as a deputy sheriff by the Marion County Sheriff’s Office in August 2002 –and 21 years later, she is now approaching retirement.