KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
It was a frigid day in January on a quiet hill-side cemetery just north of New Market, Iowa. Surrounded by friends and family, we bid farewell to my grandmother. As we departed on those dusty gravel roads, I remembered my childhood and how she’d had such a profound impact on my life.
When I’d arrived two days before her funeral, my aunts, uncle and mom asked me to gather their memories and draft a memorial to read at her funeral. As a public affairs officer in the Air Force Reserve, part of my job is to tell stories. The only difference this time was that it was my grandmother’s story, and I was part of it.
Writing that memorial was an emotional, thought-provoking journey. After interviewing my uncle and mother and reading over the memories my aunts had emailed to me, I spent an afternoon hunched over my laptop in my parent’s living room weaving all the words together. The task left me thankful for not only my grandmother, but all the positive role models in my life. Since the funeral, I’ve been reminiscing about my grandmother and all the women who have influenced me; even more so now that it’s Women’s History Month.
Throughout history, women have played a significant role in building America into the nation it is. While some of those women’s contributions are well remembered, many are not. We may forget their names, but we can see the results of their efforts in the lives we live today. They played their part through the contributions they made settling this nation, performing their jobs, raising their families, and helping their communities.
My grandmother was one of those women. Her life wasn’t easy but she made it good. She lost her mother at 11, taking on many responsibilities most of us don’t have to worry about at such a young age. As a young wife and mother she and my grandfather bought a small farm with an abandoned house north of New Market, renovated it themselves, and raised their family there.
By the time I came into the picture, my grandmother was an eclectic expert at many things to include refinishing woodwork, reupholstering furniture, sewing, knitting, crocheting, gardening, canning and farming. She was also a self-taught oil painter whose artwork is on display throughout our community. She did all this while employed as a cook at the local high-school and later as the head cook at the local state prison until she retired.
Looking back at my life, the times I spent with my grandmother and grandfather were magical moments. My cousins and I would sleep over and she would read us fables, we’d wake up the next morning and spend the day “helping” on the farm. In the late afternoon we’d make homemade ice cream, enjoying the product of our hard work while watching the sun set from their wrap-around porch.
As I got older, my grandmother would occasionally help me with school and 4-H projects, which ranged from sewing an outfit to helping me raise a steer for the county fair. Growing up, my mother always encouraged me to get a college education, which would provide me more opportunities to advance in my chosen career. However, my grandmother taught me a person doesn’t necessarily have to have a college degree to be educated. By watching her I discovered you can learn a lot from reading a book, seeking out information from an expert, and practicing a skill until you master the craft.
My grandmother and family had a profound impact on me during my youth, but my peers did also. I was influenced by the women from my community who told me about their Air Force experiences, which is what I based my decision on when I enlisted in 1997.
I’ve been in 20 years now and throughout my life and career I’ve met inspiring women who have taught me many things about my job, supervision and leadership. I’ve written some of those women’s stories. I wrote one such story when I deployed in 2001 to Eskan Village Air Force Base, Saudi Arabia, in support of Operation Southern Watch. As part of Women’s History Month, I interviewed then Maj. Martha McSally, an A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot who was the first woman to fly in combat in Iraq. She is an Air Force Academy graduate who earned a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard, and in 2001 was one of the Air Force’s highest ranking female fighter pilots. I left the interview thinking, “what an amazing, accomplished and courageous person.”
Today it’s no different, I currently work in the Air Force Reserve’s 403rd Wing with women who are C-130J pilots who fly tactical airlift and WC-130J pilots and meteorologists who fly into hurricanes to gather critical weather data that improves forecasts. There are many outstanding professionals I’ve met who perform various jobs ranging from maintainers to medical technicians who support these missions daily.
Although most of us won’t accomplish feats such as being the first woman to fly into combat, we can all make a difference every day. We do it through the tasks we perform in support of our families, communities and jobs. As Airmen we play a role in accomplishing the mission and contributing to the greatest Air Force the world has ever known.
On that cold winter day in January, my grandmother reinforced one final life lesson: It’s how we live our life, respond to trials, treat others, and perform day-to-day tasks that can lead to an extraordinary life.