This is my first blog! And I can’t think of anything more meaningful to write about than the women who went before me, the women I served with, and the women who will be among our nation’s leaders for generations to come. Of course, many of my experiences and stories hail from my military career, but the transformative role of women in the last few decades and the amazing women who led the transformation should be recognizable regardless of occupation.
My path to a leadership role was interesting, to say the least, from the very beginning. When I joined the Air Force, I was assigned to an all-female flight and they put me in a position of leadership right away. I didn’t ask for it but—for some reason—my Training Instructor said, “Jelinski, you’re going to be my dorm chief.” And that was it. I had never been away from home. I didn’t know anything about the military. I had no sooner put my bags down before I found myself in a leadership role while learning to become an airman myself.
I came to the Air Force without any preconceived notions, stereotypes, or anything like that. I was there to do a job, work hard, and do what I needed to do to serve my country. But as time went on I realized that I—as a woman—did have to work a little bit harder and prove myself a bit more. Even though the standards were the same, women still had to excel to move up and advance. Whether the role was air traffic controller or senior leader, or you were simply trying to make your way up in the rank structure, it seemed we always had to work a little bit harder. But I didn’t mind. I grew up on a farm and hard work was our way of life.
I also find it interesting that, when people talk about the Air Force, the first thing that comes to mind is the pilots. I always smile, though, when the thought comes to mind that those aircraft are not going anywhere without the support of the ground crew. And I still beam with pride when I see the number of women who refuel those aircraft, who serve as aircraft maintenance personnel, logistics experts, women who loaded the aircraft by forklift—whatever the role, you name it, we have these warrior women filling so many of them in the United States Air Force.
And leadership! Wow! Women serve as squadron and group commanders, and they lead entire wings across the Air Force enterprise. Women serve in the most senior levels of leadership that spans every branch and component of our Armed Forces. Whether a senior enlisted leader, general officer and all ranks in-between, woman bring a unique perspective, diversity of thought and added value to the entire team. I’m a firm believer in letting your record stand for itself…period.
Since the beginning of our Nation, women have been serving in vital roles in the military alongside of our male counterparts, sometimes in disguise. Today we don’t have to do that. In fact, right now in the Air Force and Air National Guard, nearly all jobs are open to both women and men. How far we’ve come! Even early in my career, I clearly understood the increasing value of women in critical roles and that led me to clearly believe that I could be and achieve anything I wanted. Not quite as many positions are open to females in other components of the military—particularly in the ground components—but I tell you, the opportunities are endless. They’re absolutely endless.
I think back on the history of when women had to fight for the right to fight. My career has certainly benefitted from the women who have gone before me and who paved the way. They fought for the equality of all women and, today, the women that serve in the military are thriving in that equality. We stand shoulder-to-shoulder, back-to-back, and next to our male counterparts. We face the same dangers, the same challenges, and the same concerns as our male counterparts. The women that go forward have a male spouse or significant other and family behind. The same is true of our male counterparts. It’s no different. With dignity and respect for all, we all have the same opportunity to serve and we all do so with the ultimate of courage—upholding standards and accomplishing results. And I say sincerely and with the utmost humility—as the first and only woman in the history of the United States Armed Forces to serve as a Senior Enlisted Advisor to a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, responsible for representing more than 450,000 enlisted Soldiers, Airmen, and National Guard members across our country—well, only in America does that happen.
Opportunity for women to grow, to mentor, to lead is now everywhere we, as women, are. We have to be ready for opportunity, however, when it knocks on our door. We must give leadership every reason to select us. But, remember, you must never stop learning, never stop developing yourself, and never give in to the situations, the people, or the fears that may stand in your way. We’ve all worked way too long and much too hard to give anything less than the very best we have to offer.
Now, don’t forget, this is my first blog—so let me know what you think. And come back often as I’d love to keep the conversations about the issues and opportunities affecting women flowing and meaningful.