This month we celebrate the service of our female Veterans with stories from our co-workers who also served in the military. Shelly Ortega learned to be fearless while serving in the United States Air Force. Listen as she talks about her journey. #sheisaveteran
William Krieger: The views and opinions of the guest of the “Me You Us” podcast do not represent the views and opinions of Consumers Energy.
William: Hello, everyone. Welcome to Me You Us, all well?being podcast. It’s another well?being Wednesday here at Consumers Energy and I’m your host, Bill Krieger.
Today, my guest is Shelly Ortega. She is a revenue assurance fraud supervisor here at Consumers Energy. Shelly, if you’d introduce yourself, we’ll get the conversations started.
Shelly Ortega: Thank you, Bill. I appreciate that. Yes, as you stated, I am Shelly Ortega. I have been with the Consumers Energy family for over 20 years at this point and excited to have a career within this company, but more excited to have this conversation today and started out with, Bill, is that I want to let you know that I’m a part of a family that is rich in military service.
I am the granddaughter of an Army and Marine Corp veteran, daughter of a Marine Corp veteran, and I do have numerous extended family members that have served in the Air Force, Army and Marine Corp.
William: Wow. I have to ask because I grew up in a Marine Corp family. Did you grow up making a hospital corners when you made your bed?
Shelly: I did not. My father…We spent a lot of time overseas in Japan so I didn’t have the opportunity to see him on a regular basis because he seem to always be out doing something. I do know that there was a strong emphasis placed on sir and ma’am and please and thank you.
William: Not surprising at all. [laughs] Not surprising at all. Definitely a family rich in military service, which we’re going to talk about.
Before we do that, revenue assurance fraud supervisor, that’s a lot of words. I’m not sure our audience knows exactly what you do. Can you maybe tell us a little bit about what you do for a living and how you got into it?
Shelly: Yeah, absolutely. I manage a group of investigators who investigate utility fraud and identity theft. How I got into this, Bill, is I started in this company in customer service. Indirectly, I would work with the fraud department and was really intrigued by how they investigate identity theft and utility fraud.
Took me awhile, but a number of job positions, I ended up in the fraud department as an investigator. Then really had an opportunity to develop the identity theft program that we now have in place with other work colleagues.
William: All right. That’s got to be some pretty interesting work.
Shelly: I think every day is a new day because we always have an opportunity to really redirect customers so they’re on the right path or even opportunities to help customers who are facing a burden of a bill to seek assistance and potentially get the resources and help that they need.
William: I like what you’re saying there because…When I think about fraud and investigation, my mind goes to a different space. It sounds like really we’re just trying to help our customers get where they need to be.
Shelly: Fraud is a very harsh word to be used. The way I think of it is that a lot of customers may have desperation at that point in time because they do need utilities. It’s more about avoidance than an actual criminal act.
I feel strongly that it’s our job to help our customers obtain the services, keep the services but absolutely provide them the information that they need for assistance as well.
William: That redefines it for me. I appreciate you sharing all of that. Your family did a lot of service, but not just your family. You, before coming to Consumers Energy, served in the military as well. Tell us a little bit about that.
Shelly: I’m happy to share. I did serve in the Air Force in the early 1990s. My title was Aerospace Medical Service Apprentice and I was an EMT?trained where I served in the flight surgeon’s office serving flight personnel and supporting emergency aircraft support.
William: From the description though, it almost sounds like you were in outer space.
Shelly: I do have a story to share about that.
William: [laughs] Before we get there, what interested you in the Air Force and how did you get there?
Shelly: I was overseas in Germany at that point in time and I had done a few years in college. Really broke the bank there and thought of an opportunity. What I was familiar with was the services.
The motivation was really the GI bill and then the opportunity to continue my discovery of foreign lands. When I took the [inaudible 5:45] test, which the technical aptitude test initially, I was going to join the Navy. Back then in the early 1990s, they wanted women within the electronics field, but I had more of a desire to go in the medical field.
There was no openings in the Navy so I walk right next door to the Air Force recruitment center and explained what my want was. They were able to support me in that.
William: You joined the Air Force. Where did you go to basic training?
Shelly: I went to basic training in San Antonio, Texas. Then from there, my technical training was at Brooks Air Force Base, also located in San Antonio. My first duty station was in Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma.
William: What was a basic training like for you?
Shelly: I think I was a little more prepared than most just based on my family and friends giving me advicement before I went. One of the first rules that they provided for me was don’t volunteer for anything. Keep a low profile and that I make very quickly. I did that.
Not to say that I didn’t have run?in with drill sergeants. I certainly did. That was the whole point, was to have respect for authority and acclimate within a group and not as an individual.
William: When you talk about not volunteering, that just reminds me. I didn’t have that counsel that you have. I remember going to basic training and the drill instructor saying, “Who has a driver’s license?” A bunch who raised their hands because they thought they’re going to do something. He handed them all a broom and said, “Here, drive these brooms around the barracks.”
Shelly: Very much so. The one mistake I did do was, obviously, I brought photos of my loved ones which would include my dad in his military uniform. My dad was a high?enlisted rank. When they tore your locker apart, they came across that photo and of course, took advantage of that and kept asking me, “Are you going to tell your daddy on us? Are you going to cry?”
I certainly would not, but they had a lot of fun with it. At the time, it was very stressful.
William: Oh no, I can only imagine. I remember the folks that I went in with. If they had military ties, they certainly didn’t share them.
Shelly: Yes. I think it’s fun to reflect back and have those stories about what happened in basic training because you’re not prepared for…Even though I was given a lot of advicement, you’re there alone and it’s a matter of survival.
William: Yes. Anyone who tells you they were fully prepared for it is not telling you the whole truth.
Shelly: That is true.
William: [laughs] At least that’s my opinion. When I went to basic training, we were not integrated. There was segregated males and females. When you went to basic training, had that changed?
Shelly: We didn’t serve in the same unit, but we would be in the same buildings. They did keep us separate, but we certainly cross paths. I can share with you when I went to my first duty station that I was the first female medical technician within their group.
That was a different structure for them. We have to learn to work with one another. I had the same training as anyone else, but it did take them by surprise.
William: There was still a time then where women had served a lot in, but we would say they’re in a non?traditional roles. What was that like for you to be the first female to do that role?
Shelly: It really strengthened me. Obviously, I was very young when I joined the military. It was not only an education for me, but it was an opportunity to re?educate those around me. I can give you a great example.
My first supervisor was showing me around the office, and then he directed me to the room where there was a coffee pot. He was like, “Well, here’s where you can make coffee.” I knew immediately what he was leaning to because that was established roles that someone female potentially would do that for other people in the office and take on that duty.
I quickly redirected him and let him know that I did not drink coffee. That was the end of that. It took a while [laughs] to make myself known, and that I was there to serve the same mission as anyone else, and that I was certainly capable and qualified based on my training.
William: Did you feel though that you had to be better at what you did just to stand out?
Shelly: I certainly wanted to be better. I love a challenge. That is who I am as an individual, but certainly, at that point in time, you’re just learning as you go. When you’re so young and you’re the first one, it’s an opportunity to really establish yourself. Yes, definitely wanted to take advantage of any opportunities that came my way.
When you talk about even Consumers Energy culture values of ownership and being deliberate, those are characteristics that serve you well, both within the corporation and in the military.
William: Yes, absolutely. I talk to people who have never been in the military in very similar situations where you might go to a meeting and because you’re a female, you’re the notetaker or you’re the secretary. Good for you for saying, “Hey, I don’t drink coffee, but thanks for showing where the coffee pot is.” That’s a pretty good and strong message to send.
Once you got done with basic training in your job training, did you go to other duty stations? What kind of work did you do?
Shelly: I didn’t have an opportunity to go to the other duty stations, but I certainly had opportunity. The one that stands out in my head is it was obviously in the desert in Texas. Altus Air Force Base at that point in time was cargo planes. That was training for the pilots, the co?pilots, navigators, flight crew chiefs, etc.
They would ship us off. Typically, I was there to support the flight surgeon for any medical emergencies that may occur. That was the basis of my job when I serviced flight personnel with their yearly physicals, with anything that they needed as far as medical support.
Then the most exciting part for me was in?flight emergencies. Basically, if there was issues with the plane while they were in flight, then my staff was called in. We would jump in the ambulance and go to the flight line and wait to see if any medical assistance was needed.
We did have training if there was any type of crashes. That would’ve been unfortunate. I’ve never experienced that, but we were certainly trained to manage that.
William: It sounds like a lot of responsibility, a lot of things that you need to know. When we were talking about this as we’re starting the conversation, you did mention something about outer space. I guess this is the time to ask, what’s the story behind that?
Shelly: This was one of the things that very much stood out during that time frame when I was there, is that the space shuttle ?? at that point in time, it was the Discovery ?? would piggyback on a cargo plane. It was coming from California. It landed on our base.
I was part of the flight emergency crew, I had an opportunity to take the ambulance and just go on the flight line and basically babysit. I just sat there in awe. Of course, after some time, it picked up, and then it went to Florida. That stood out as a big moment for me.
William: How big is that? How big is the space shuttle or was the space shuttle?
Shelly: I can’t tell you. In my memory, it was the biggest thing, obviously smaller than the cargo plane, but it stood out to me because that was so important. You grow up about that. I remember being in Japan and being in school when the space shuttle Challenger went into flight. Then when I came home, that’s when we heard the news as far as the explosion.
It’s something that was so connective to my memory bank that when I had an opportunity for another space shuttle to sit there and just watch it, it was really awing.
William: I guess it would almost seem a little bit surreal to see something that you’ve seen on TV so many times, almost like seeing your favorite star.
William: You were talking about going to school in Japan, and I think you even said living in Germany. It sounds like you kind of moved around. Going back a little bit, how much time as a kid did you spend actually in the United States?
Shelly: I would say it’s probably half and half. The first time that I got to travel overseas, I was in kindergarten. That was in Japan, and spent some time there, came back. We spent a lot of time in California.
I ended up graduating there, coming back from my senior year from Japan again, and then had an opportunity to go to Germany in my late teens or late 20s before I joined the Air Force.
William: That’s a pretty exciting life to be able to see all those different places. How do you think that impacted you? How does that inform who you are and how you do things today?
Shelly: My mom used to always say that I was that child that had no fear. For me, it was an opportunity to discover new things beyond your bubble. It has influenced me where I took advantage, even when I was at university, to study abroad.
With that experience of being in the military, I had no fear to go and study abroad in India, England, or Costa Rica. I’ve had great opportunities to stay on my initial experience of being a military brat.
William: It’s really prepared you for being in the military.
William: Interesting. I’ve talked to some military families where the kids are born in Germany or in another country and come to the states until very late, maybe when they’re in junior high or high school. It’s a little bit of a culture shock to them. It sounds like you moved back and forth, so it eased that a little bit for you.
Shelly: Yes. When we were in Japan the second time around, I do have two younger brothers, very much younger than me. They spent a lot more time in Japan than I did. When they came back as preteens, it was a culture shock for them, but here they are now 20 years plus later.
They don’t have the attachment that I do to the military as far as wanting to serve, but they certainly have the best childhood.
William: I’m sure lots and lots of lessons learned. If you look out over your life so far and the time you spent with your family, and then the time you spent in the military, what are some of the lessons or some of the things that you do in your work life that carry over from that experience?
Shelly: Some of the best lessons I always say that structure is important. I certainly was rebellious when I was a daughter of a Marine, but I’ve come to find the value of that, that everybody needs structure and then to be challenged and to challenge yourself even more beyond what you think you can do.
Certainly, I never dreamed that I would be in a position in the Air Force and service scene in the medical community. That I would have an opportunity to do sutures, IVs, or I even had an opportunity to assist in a birth. I know that I’m highly capable of learning new things, but I have to seek them out.
The final thought for me is that you’re taking that leap of faith. Be fearless. Own your own destiny. Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way.
William: That’s a good message for our listeners. I think sometimes we allow fear to dictate the things that we do. We may miss out on things. Thank you so much for sharing that.
Usually, Shelly, I say, “Hey, we’re getting close to the end of the podcast. What are your final thoughts?” You beat me to the punch on that one.
Shelly: This has been great. I enjoy talking to you, Bill. I appreciate the opportunity to talk a little bit about my history. More importantly, I love the fact that you’re doing this and really showcasing women that have served in the military or are serving in the military. I have the utmost respect for our military personnel.
A big shout out to everybody that if you haven’t served in the military, if you have a family member, or you know someone, they are extraordinary individuals. They are doing something, not only for you and others, but for our country.
William: Yes. An interesting statistic is that only about one percent of the citizens of the United States have actually served or are currently serving in the military. Raising your hand to do something that others either can’t do or just don’t have an interest in doing means quite a bit.
Thank you for sharing all of that. Thank you for sharing your story. I know that it will serve as an inspiration to our listeners. Again, thanks for agreeing to come on and taking time out of your day.
Shelly: Thank you again, Bill.
William: Thank you to the audience for listening in today. The “Me You Us” podcast is proudly sponsored by Consumers Energy, leaving Michigan better than we found it. Remember, you can find the Me You Us podcast on all major podcasting platforms. Be sure to go out, find us, and subscribe.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. That’s 988. If you’re a veteran or you know a Veteran who is in crisis, you can call 988 and press one for the Veterans Crisis Line.
William: Remember to tune in every Wednesday as we talk about the things that impact your personal well?being.