INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey --
On Feb. 18, 1998, as I left my job on Wall Street, and said good-bye to my friends and family, I remember stepping foot off the bus on Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. At the time, I was thinking it was way too early in the morning.
I had recalled one of my friends, who left for U.S. Air Force Basic Military Training a few weeks before me, saying, “Get as much sleep as you can, when you can, before getting to base.” As I was trying to get a quick nap during the bus ride to base, the older civilian driver started to yell at me, “You better wake the hell up! You’re in for a rude awaking!” I proceeded to give him the best dirty look I could and thought, “Man, mind your damn business! I’m a grown woman and you are not in the military.”
As we pulled up, Military Training Instructors began yelling at everyone and part of me just wanted to blend in and make it through the next few weeks of basic training.
Basic training was only the beginning for me. During my time of service, as a now Master Sgt. in the U.S. Air Force, I’ve adapted, assimilated, exceeded and surpassed so many things people thought I was or could be.
The first person to believe in me was my blue-rope, or Superintendent Military Training Instructor, Master Sgt. Cosart, and his wife, Tech. Sgt. Cosart. They both knew I was better and felt I had more to give than many of the people in my past had.
After military basic training, I had to overcome times where people took my female headstrong, independent nature and my young-looking exterior as a “snotty” young Airman who knew nothing of life. For me, it was difficult to be taken seriously, no matter how much I tried, but I never gave up.
Being an Airman who joined at an older age was challenging, but not completely impossible, as I learned to use it to my advantage. But being a woman in the military, on the other hand, was difficult at times, as I was looked upon both favorably and unfavorably.
Shortly after my first year in the U.S. Air Force, the Kosovo Campaign occurred. I was the only female deployed from my unit, and one of three in the initial wave of service members to leave in support of the fight out of Italy. The Italian military did not allow women in their forces at the time, so when the men saw us, they would stop and watch as we walked by.
When the female housekeepers on base saw us females, they too stopped in their tracks, but it was different. They had beaming smiles and a few tried to touch us as if we were celebrities, because in their eyes, we were.
One day while driving on the highway, we passed a car with three Italian Girl Scouts in the backseat. When they saw us, one of the girls turned, gave a huge smile and saluted the three of us. I returned the salute with an overwhelming sense of pride and admiration of her. I felt that we showed hope to those women, especially the young girls, that anything is possible.
To this day, 19 years later, I remember her face and how she made me feel.
Shortly upon my return from the campaign, I took a special duty assignment to the NATO Communications Center located at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. During an in-processing meeting, one of the unit female Chief Master Sgts. informed me that some of the other NATO countries didn’t have women in their military so I’d be sexually harassed; that I would need to get used to it. She added that when I see any photos of half-naked women in the offices, because I would, to just deal with it, and not bother to say or do anything.
I remember thinking, “Here I am, a young female in the military, being told by a female Chief Master Sgt. to just accept sexual harassment.” All I could think was, “Wrong answer, I will not deal with it.”
Thankfully there were others who thought the same way I did, so I decided to fight injustice and not accept what I felt was wrong.
Fast-forward ten years and I find myself cross-training into the very career field which corresponds with what I refused to accept all those years ago: Equal Opportunity. This is a cross-training career field for Staff Sgt. selects and above, who have to interview for and shadow with their local EO office to see if the individual is a good fit for the career field, not to mention if the career field fits them.
This career is not for everyone as it can be an emotionally and mentally exhausting job, but it is also a very rewarding experience when those who need help, receive it.
As of Feb. 18, 2018, I have now served 20 years and as I look back, I remember everything I experienced. This life wasn’t easy, but if it was, then we wouldn’t be the less than one percent of Americans who serve.
The countries I have lived in and visited, the cultures I’ve embraced and the people I’ve met along the way make it all worth it. Not many people outside of the military can say they lived in Europe for a good part of their lives. I’ve served three quarters of my career overseas and am grateful for that. Yes, I miss my family, I have missed weddings, birthdays and the births of my niece and nephews, but I take pride in the fact that I’m doing something others can’t.
The young woman who stepped foot on Lackland AFB on Feb. 18, 1998, is not the same woman today. Yes, back then I was strong-willed, but today I am even stronger, have more life experiences and more to give to those who seek my guidance and who will eventually follow me. It’s been a tough but amazing life.