From young Airmen to chiefs, supply technicians to pilots, women at Luke Air Force Base make a difference every day. Every person has a different story “â€ a different reason for joining and continuing to serve. Here are the stories of six Luke women, gathered by six 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs women.
Senior Airman Jazzema Farris
56th Medical Support Squadron Medical laboratory journeyman
by Airman 1st Class Kate Vaughn
Making a positive impact early in your career is rarely a bad idea. That’s exactly what Luke’s 2011 Airman of the Year has done and plans to keep doing.
Farris, born in Newark, N.J., joined the Air Force Aug. 5, 2008, and Luke Air Force Base is her first duty station. Her short-term goal is to make staff sergeant the first time testing and long-term, she’d like to become an officer.
When she was selected as Luke Air Force Base 2011 Airman of the Year, she said it took her by surprise.
“I never thought I’d receive such high accolades in so little time,” she said. “My supervision guided me to the door of excellence, and I walked through it. They believed in me and presented me with huge responsibilities early in my career. I was willing to go above and beyond on- and off-duty, and in return there were rewards.”
Recently tasked for her first deployment, she says the hardest thing about being a woman in the military is breaking away from social norms that already exist in the world.
“Women are thought to be weaker and expected to be more reserved, while men are considered to be stronger and expected to be authoritative,” Farris said. “For example, when a woman is stern she is alleged to be excessive with her power, but when a man is stern he is assumed to be a great leader. It seems to be a double standard favoring male leaders.”
She credits positive childhood experiences, a supportive husband and her supervision for her overall success in the military.
The advice she would give to new Airmen is to take responsibility for their actions and to not fear asking questions or giving suggestions, no matter their rank.
Farris agrees there are some obstacles to overcome as a young Airman.
“The obstacles I see,” she said, “include overcoming communication barriers, off-duty distractions and underestimating your role in the mission.”
The success women are having today is clearly linked to the sacrifices women have made in the past.
“Women’s History Month is important to recognize women who made sacrifices in history for women to have equal rights, and those women who exercised those rights to show the true capabilities of women,” she said. “It’s imperative for everyone to pay tribute to the women who paved the way by honoring them during Women’s History Month. I am thankful for the strong women in history and the women making history every day.”
Chief Master Sgt. June Phillips
56th Mission Support Group Superintendent
by Airman 1st Class Sandra Welch
Where are you from? Wilkes-Barre, Penn.
When did you join the Air Force? June 1983
What was your goal when you first enlisted? Initially my only goal was to make it through my first term of enlistment without getting in trouble and get out after four years. But, I had an awesome supervisor who did his job and led me in the right direction. At some point the uniform and the flag took on a whole different meaning.
Did you ever see yourself being a chief? No I didn’t. When I was promoted to master sergeant and decided to become a first sergeant I was told that promotions were very few, so you had to put on the diamond for the right reasons. I accepted that because I wanted to help Airmen and share what I had learned throughout my career. I had incredible senior leaders grooming me which ultimately led to promotions to senior and chief.
What is your current goal in the Air Force? I’ve been afforded so many opportunities in my nearly 29 years, and at this point in my career, I have more yesterdays than tomorrows left. My goals now are to continue to lead and to share what I’ve learned.
What challenges have you overcome being a female in the Air Force? Early on in my career fewer than 10 percent of the Air Force were women. At times and with some supervisors, it was perceived that I was expected to produce more than my male counterparts. There are challenges that we will face throughout our careers, and they will come in different forms. It’s how we react to them by overcoming them that matters.
What’s the hardest thing about being in the military? Being so far from my mother, brother and “other half” who are on the East Coast is hard. Professionally, managing the resource constraints that are being levied on the Air Force and personnel is also hard.
What helped with your overall success in the military? I’ve been fortunate and blessed to have been surrounded by great people and leaders who groomed me throughout the ranks.
What is the hardest thing about being a chief? As a chief you want to fix everything you think is wrong. My advice is to trust but verify, have all the facts, open the aperture (the AF does not revolve solely around one AFSC/shop/section/flight/squadron), and choose your battles as some things will not or cannot change.
Did your education play a part in your success? Huge! The Air Force ensures we are well trained in our specialties, and we should strive to achieve degrees to support that experience, as well as fine tune speaking and writing skills.
Lt. Col. Stephane Wolfgeher
56th Operations Support Squadron Director of operations
by Master Sgt. Cynthia Dorfner
To say Wolfgeher comes from a military family is definitely an understatement. She grew up an Army “brat” “â€ her father retired as a colonel; she has a brother in the Missouri Army National Guard; and she’s married to an officer in the Naval Reserve. With all of those military men in her life, it only makes sense this F-16 pilot would have no issues in a profession dominated by males. Still, it’s safe to say she’s holding her own.
When did you decide to join the Air Force? I always figured I was going to be in the military. I applied for both Army and Air Force ROTC scholarships, and the Air Force came through first with my school of choice. It was my way to pay for my education, but I don’t think I ever really considered anything else but being the in the military for a career.
Did you always want to be a pilot? No. Growing up “in the Army,” I didn’t really know anything about flying. During my field training between my sophomore and junior year of college, I met some aviators and was really impressed with them “â€œ with their confidence, their intelligence and their interaction with other people.
How did you end up as a fighter pilot? I studied hard, I “chair flew” my missions (practiced my flights on the ground in my head by visualizing how it would go, what I would do, what I would say), and I strove to help others. It was a way to cement the concepts in my own mind.
How was that for you … entering a field that was dominated by men? I never had anyone tell me I couldn’t do something because I was a female. The men (and women) I was going through training with didn’t seem to have any issues “â€ if anything, it was the older “generation” that sometimes had problems with women in aviation. I realized it was important for me to succeed and show those that felt women didn’t have the qualifications that we could succeed in the fighter business.
Do you ever feel pressure to succeed in your field because you’re a woman? Yes. I was one of the first few females in the F-15E and we were under the microscope. We had to prove we were there because of our abilities and not just because of some “quota.” We were also enough of a “novelty” to make others take notice.
Do/did you have a female mentor in your life? When you say female mentor, I think military career mentor. When I started out, there wasn’t really anyone in “front” of me to look up to. I looked up to the men in my career field because they were fighter pilots and leaders and that is what I wanted to be. I didn’t care if they were men or women. If you mean any female I looked up to, I would have to say my mother, grandmother and sister. They valued competence and intelligence and saw no barriers to what I wanted to become.
Col. Yolanda Bledsoe
56th Medical Group Commander
by Staff Sgt. Darlene Seltmann
Col. Yolanda Bledsoe, from Richmond, Va., graduated from Medical College of Virginia’s Nursing School May 19, 1989, and pinned on second lieutenant the same night. She has had 14 assignments in her 22-year career.
When first joining the military all she wanted was to be a nurse and finish her initial commitment. Never did she imagine she would become a commander. Shortly after joining she realized she was part of something much bigger than providing just medical care. She knew her primary job was to be an officer in the military and that demanded a higher level of commitment and dedication. That perspective changed her outlook.
Did you ever see yourself being a group commander? No! In the Nurse Corps, group commander positions are limited, and the process is very competitive.
What is your current goal in the Air Force? My goal is to continue to strive to be entrusted with leadership positions that will allow me to enhance the Defense Healthcare System and develop our future generation of medical professionals as well as all Airmen.
Have you had to overcome any challenges being a female? Mentoring is one of the biggest challenges for females with careers in any corporate environment, and the military is no different. Over the years, the Armed Forces has seen a significant increase in percentages of women in the senior officer and enlisted ranks. These women have also progressed well professionally even when compared to their civilian counterparts.
What is the hardest thing about being in the military? Starting a project and not seeing it come to fruition because I get assigned to a new base.
What helped with your overall success in the military? No matter where you go (or what job you are doing), if you bloom where you are planted and do a good job, the sky’s the limit. Every day you have to have dedication, determination and commitment, support from family, friends and mentors. It takes a village to raise a leader.
What is the hardest thing about being a group commander? Balancing family and mission requirements since a group commander is on the job 24/7.
What advice can you give another female seeking to be in any position of power? A commander’s job is a leadership position with authority and inherent in that authority is power. The best advice is to know your job, do your job, get to know your people, be confident, take risks, it’s OK not to succeed at every endeavor as long as you learn from them, find a mentor, be a mentor and most of all, be humble. You live in a glass house.
How do you feel your education helped you to be successful? During my recent speech at the Women’s History Month Retreat Ceremony, obtaining my bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees helped to lay a solid foundation for me, and they have afforded me opportunities that continue to pay huge personal and professional dividends in my life. What are your feelings about Women’s history month? The importance of Women’s History Month is to celebrate the accomplishments of extraordinary women who made the world a better place with their activism, courage and determination.
Is there anything you would like to add? Be comfortable being uncomfortable. As you continue to move up into leadership positions, you will find yourself as the only female at the executive leadership table. It’s OK. Embrace it.
Senior Airman Jessica Crotta
56th Civil Engineer Squadron Firefighter
by Staff Sgt. Jaime Ciciora
Although at least three women serve at Luke Air Force Base as firefighters, its remains a predominantly male career field. Senior Airman Jessica Crotta is a firefighter and although it may not be an easy job for any gender, it’s a challenge she’s stepped up to.
How long have you served? I joined Feb. 20, 2007, and just re-enlisted for another four.
When did you decide to join the Air Force? When working as a personal trainer in Chicago wasn’t challenging enough.
Did you always want to be a firefighter? I’d never seen a female firefighter before, so I didn’t give it much thought until deciding to join the Air Force.
Why did being a firefighter fit you? Firefighter felt right. It’s the ultimate hero. No one dislikes a firefighter.
Did you understand the educational and training requirements for being a firefighter? I had no idea how much goes into all the training we do.
What were the educational requirements you didn’t know about? I wasn’t aware of the math, but I still would have chosen this career even if I’d known.
As far as education, what is the biggest obstacle/hardest part for you? I’m intimidated by my next course, Officer I. Being a captain on a truck is serious stuff. Not only are you already doing something dangerous by working with fire, but you become responsible for the lives of your crew.
How did you end up as a firefighter? I’ve always been an athlete and wanted to put my physical strengths to use. I figure what better way than to serve my country in the military, help my community as a firefighter and take pride in all my work whether it be on the job or off.
How was it for you entering a field that is predominately male? It’s basically awesome. But, I think any female that can rock a position dominated by men is totally awesome.
Do you ever feel pressure to succeed because you are a woman and there are so few in your career field? Oh yes absolutely. Even with hard work and time on the job there will always be a stigma, but the people that give it a stigma are the people I choose not to associate with other than respectfully in the work environment. Being a female in the fire service definitely requires a thick skin.
Did or do you have a female mentor in your life? I can’t pinpoint just one woman. My mother’s unprejudiced views and loving guidance, my cousin, Alice, taught me how to be a respectable woman, and my mother-in-law’s patience is seriously inspiring. I try to apply all of their greatness to my life.
How do you feel about being a leader in a field with mostly men? It’s definitely challenging. Trying to voice an idea or opinion over a group of men is work.
What does it mean to you to be a woman in the Air Force? As a firefighter, I feel like this is what I should be doing. I like being a part of the Air Force, and I like working as a firefighter, and I’m currently working as an inspector with the greatest fire prevention team in Arizona. I’ve worked as the administrative assistant as well, so I’ve learned how a department works as a whole, not just operationally.
Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Patton
944th Logistics Readiness Squadron Traffic management craftsman
by Denise Willhite
What do you do after being selected as the first female Arizona ranger commander in Army JROTC in high school? Join the Air Force Reserves, of course.
Patton loved the military after joining Army JROTC and a year after graduating high school, she joined the Air Force Reserve and never looked back.
Now a seven-year veteran, Patton’s goals when she joined the military were to graduate from Basic Military Training, make her parents proud and go to college. Now her goals are to make history, be the best Airman she can be and receive a commission.
“I went from, I’m here for myself to I’m here for my country,” she said.
Schooling was always a major factor in her choice to join the military.
“I feel that the more education you have, the more knowledge you can use to help you move up the chain of command,” Patton said.
“I think having a month devoted to women is amazing. It gives everyone the opportunity to learn about the women that helped shape the United States.”
Patton believes that the hardest thing about being a female in the military is getting herself noticed in a predominantly male job.
“Having others listen to you is hard enough, but to be a female is even harder,” she said
Patton’s advice is to never give up, and if you fall, get back up and keep moving forward.