SPRINGFIELD — Since he was 5 years old, Col. Wesley R. Anderson of Minooka and native of Manlius, knew he wanted to be a soldier and so did everyone else.
In his high school yearbook, his classmates predicted he would be a general someday. Years later when he returned for reunions, they weren’t surprised to see he was living his childhood dream. It may have been because he wore his father’s and stepfather’s dog tags every day, even during football games. Or maybe they just knew he was a natural leader.
Right after high school, an 18-year-old Anderson quickly found himself providing for his new wife and young son by working for John Deere. As he was home from work sick one day, he realized it was time to make a change.
“I was doing what I had to do, but I needed to get back to who I was,” he said.
Soon he was on the phone with an Army recruiter and was given the chance he always wanted.
“(The recruiter) gave me an opportunity I don’t think I would have gotten on my own,” he said.
Like his classmates, his wife June wasn’t surprised when he decided to enlist. Anderson went to basic training in 1981 and soon commissioned through Northern Illinois University’s Reserve Officer Training Corps in 1983. Then in 1985 he entered into the Active Guard Reserve (AGR) service. Today he is the longest-serving AGR commissioned officer in Illinois Army National Guard history.
His first commander was then 1st Lt. Dennis L. Celletti at Troop E, 106th Cavalry in Rock Falls. Celletti of Springfield, now a major general, is the Illinois National Guard’s Assistant Adjutant General-Army.
“When I first met then Cadet Anderson, I knew he would be an outstanding leader and commissioned officer,” Celletti said. “I never could have predicted how many times our paths would cross during our careers, but I’m so grateful they did. He not only applied my guidance to his leadership style, but he made it his own.”
Anderson said he learned a lot from Celletti and applied Celletti’s “back to basics” leadership throughout his career. Anderson even applied those “basics,” such as personnel and property accountability and always referring to regulations nearly 30 years after his first assignment when he was director of military personnel for the Illinois Army National Guard.
In that position, he was a colonel and said he realized he had become a coach and a mentor who invested in the success of his subordinates.
“I empowered them to do their jobs,” he said. “I gave a vision and flew top cover.”
One of those subordinates was Sgt. 1st Class Jamie Williams of Sherman, with Joint Force Headquarters in Springfield. Williams worked with Anderson in the military personnel office.
“I learned so much from him. He taught me what a true leader is,” she said. “He would always sit at your desk and chat with you if it seemed you were having a rough day and would not leave until it seemed your mood was better. He did that with everyone. He cared so much about his soldiers. We were his military family and he treated us the same as his family.”
His next and final position within the Illinois Army National Guard was as chief of staff, also a position held by Celletti.
Anderson said he expanded on what he learned as a leader throughout his career and applied those lessons learned to the new position as the chief of staff.
“I managed the talent and relied on them to make me smart,” he said. “I’m grateful I had the opportunity to grow in that position.”
In addition to his positions as director of personnel and chief of staff, Anderson held various positions including executive officer of Troop E, 106th Cavalry Regiment, commander of Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 131st Infantry Regiment, operations officer (S3) and executive officer for 2nd Battalion, 202nd Air Defense Artillery, commander of 1st Battalion, 131st Infantry Regiment, director Host Nation Support for 33rd Area Support Group, commander of Base Operations, Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, support operations officer and deputy commander of 108th Sustainment Brigade.
In recognition of his successful career and past duty assignments, Celletti awarded Anderson the Legion of Merit March 5, one of the U.S. military’s most prestigious awards.
Now as Anderson retires, he said he’s going to spend time with family. While he said it typically is not like him, he will take time to smell a rose or two and take in a few sights.
“I’ve gotten farther than I ever thought and I wouldn’t trade any of it,” Anderson said. “I am eternally grateful to an organization that gave me an opportunity. The guy walking out the door is better than the guy who walked in.”
Anderson will celebrate his retirement April 27 at the Parke Hotel and Conference Center in Bloomington.