WEST COLUMBIA

Nuclear missile operator was not Danallen Lee’s first choice of assignment.

“Our junior year at the academy, we put in a list of seven jobs that you want to do,” Lee said. “That was number two on my list.”

Lee’s first choice was in Security Forces, a job he’d held after enlisting, because it was where he was experienced, and he knew he liked the job, he said.

“The job that I received is a nuclear missile operator,” Lee said. “Pretty much, we’re the people who push the button to send off a nuclear weapon.”

Nuclear missile operator was not Lee’s father’s first choice of assignment for his son, either.

“That’s where they put him,” Dan Lee said. “That ain’t where he wanted to go. There’s a difference.”

While Danallen is handling it, the reality of his job is waiting to push a button “that’s gonna destroy the whole world, kill a whole bunch of people,” Dan Lee said.

“No, I don’t like that,” Dan Lee said. “He’s not a killer.”

He would’ve wished better for his son, but that’s where God has put him so they have to accept it, Dan Lee said.

“He gotta do what he gotta do,” mother Mercie Lee said.

Danallen views the job the same way.

“I know what I signed up to do,” he said. “It’s what has to be done for the country. Someone has to do it — why not me?”

Lee grew up in West Columbia as the baby of four children. One month after graduating from Columbia High School in 2013, he enlisted in the Air Force in search of a better life, he said.

In 2016, he made the decision to enter the Air Force Academy.

“Most people go to the academy straight out of high school,” Lee said. “It’s pretty much a four-year college but it’s kind of on steroids — like a military four-year college — and when you get out you become an officer in that branch.”

Lee graduated from the academy in April with a degree in political science and to a commission as a second lieutenant, he said.

His political science degree will help him understand how the U.S. government interacts with other countries and how the U.S. military interacts with other militaries, but he doesn’t plan to stop there, he said.

“I plan to get a master’s degree and to just become a better person every day,” Danallen Lee said.

Family and friends are proud of what he’s accomplished, and who he’s becoming.

“We are so proud of this young man,” Columbia-Brazoria ISD Superintendent Steven Galloway said. “Great example of the rewards of working hard and making good choices.”

Galloway, along with family friends Tim Clinch and Allen Taylor, played instrumental roles in Danallen Lee’s life while he was growing up, Dan Lee said.

Clinch and Taylor had children Danallen’s age and often took him along to monster truck drives, baseball games and more, Dan Lee said.

“They gave him another side of life to see besides what I was offering him where I was coming from and where I come from,” Dan Lee said.

They always had Danallen’s best interests at heart, Dan Lee said.

Danallen remains at the academy in Colorado, on leave for 60 days until he heads to California for eight months of training. After that, he will be assigned to North Dakota, Wyoming or Montana, he said.

Danallen called his parents recently and asked if they wanted to ride with him when he makes the trip from Colorado to California, where he’ll undergo training, Dan Lee said.

“I told him, ‘Son, that would be the privilege in the world for me to go on a cross-country drive with you,’” Dan Lee said.

“He was something else from the day he was born,” Dan Lee said. “I ain’t bragging or boasting, but he was special.”

Corinna Richardson is the features writer for The Facts. Contact her at 979-237-0150.

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