Failure also brings a lesson

The original quote is “Tragedy also brings a gift.”  Army MSgt Cedric King is a warrior and an inspiration.  Not only in his military accomplishments, but also in his knowledge that tragedy and failure can be a gift.  He was gravely wounded in combat, ultimately losing both of his legs and suffering damage to his right arm.   Instead of looking at the situation as the end of his career, he viewed it as the beginning something great, and is on his way to becoming an IRONMAN (see his inspirational video here).

“You can’t rest on those old victories.  You’ve gotta compete every day.  You’ve gotta show up and compete every day.” – Cedric King

Showing up every day can be hard.  Competing every day can be exhausting.  But you can do it…and MSgt King is right — you cannot rest on old victories.  But you also cannot dwell on past failures.  As a young girl or woman working to pursuing a career in aviation, you might feel the odds are stacked against you.  You may sometimes feel your set-backs are signs that you don’t belong.  You may even experience situations where it’s clear someone is trying to tell you that you don’t belong.  My answer:  “Bulls–t! Prove them wrong!”  Keep working, keep showing up, and keep competing.   If you fail, learn from the failure and press on.  When you succeed, build on that success and continue to get better.  And in both cases:  SHARE that experience, knowledge, and life lesson with others.

The talents you can bring to the table exist only in you.  Keep competing.

#girlpilot #militaryaviation #bethechange

Re-finding your “Why”


Do you remember what you wanted to be when you grew up? I’m pretty sure I changed my mind a few times, trying to decide whether I should be a doctor, a teacher, or Donnie and Marie Osmond’s back-up singer (seriously, my parents have pictures of me and my sister using the backyard picnic table as our stage and wooden spoons as our microphones). Sometime in grade school I decided I would be a pilot. The details of that decision are a mix of childhood memories, but I distinctly remember telling my Dad that I was going to go to the Air Force Academy and be an Air Force pilot. I think I was 10. The next many years are a blur of challenges, failures, successes, losses, wins, and ultimately what has been an incredibly rewarding career: All made possible, in part, because I knew why I wanted to be reach that goal. I knew why I had chosen and worked so hard to become and remain an Air Force officer and pilot.

But what happens when we get tired? What happens when we lose or forget our why? During a Wing Commander’s Call last month, our boss was asked this very question. She recommended getting back to the core of why you chose to join the Air Force and sharing your experience with others. I sat there wondering “when did I lose my why and why didn’t I realize it until now?”

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak at a “Girls In Aviation Day” hosted by the Women in Aviation International, Central Florida Chapter, in Orlando, Florida. A fellow Air Force aviatrix and I traveled to Orlando for the opportunity to share our stories and our love of military aviation with 40 young girls. Those who know me realize that public speaking is something I need to plan and prepare to do. But this time it wasn’t just nerves that made me have to prepare…it was my lack of belief in what I was saying. I still enjoyed my job, I still loved being in the military, but over the last 2 years, I had begun to lose my “why.”

This event arrived at a perfect time for me. I’m here to tell you, if you have forgotten why you chose the path or career you have chosen or if you are not sure you should continue down this path or keep this career, go share it with a group of kids. Being there, seeing them excited to learn about careers in aviation, watching their hands fly up to ask question after question, and – if you can believe it – watching teenage girls put their cellphones away – that is how you re-find your why. And I did.

I encourage all of you, no matter what it is you have chosen to pursue in this lifetime, if you are beginning to feel worn out, if you have noticed you are just going through the motions of “loving” your job, if you have forgotten or lost your “why”: Go find the nearest school, Boys and Girls Club, any event or organization that is hosting a career day or something like it and share how you chose your path, how you got there, why you love it. As you speak to those kids and answer their questions, you will begin to believe yourself again. And if not, it is time to find your new “why”.

#girlpilot #bethechange #aviation #believe #girl

Ashley White-Stumpf and the Special Forces Cultural Support Teams



As the argument continues on whether women belong in combat (the irony that we are already there is not lost on those of us that have been already), a book was published called Ashley’s War, The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Operations Battlefield, By Gayle Tzemach Lemmon (2015).  If you have not already, please read it.  The book captures the heart, determination and authentic capability of our women soldiers who are ready to serve in the Army’s toughest combat scenarios.  So ready were the women chronicled in this book in particular, they were willing to give their life for the opportunity.   1Lt Ashley White, along with two other Rangers, lost her life with the 2nd of the 75th Ranger Battalion on this day (22 Oct) in 2011.  She will not be forgotten.

Since the ban on women in combat was lifted in 2013, many services have taken longer than expected to determine how women should be integrated.  Believe what you want, but I personally think this delay is perpetuating myths that put our young women in danger- reinforcing beliefs among both men and women that women are somehow handicapped or too weak to perform like men.  Many in our society believe women would be a liability in combat (though technically the argument should be that we “are” a liability because we are already there- but we aren’t a liability as it is so we won’t be a liability in the future), that including both genders is a “social experiment” that would hold “all-male” units back. One most outspoken is Lt Gen (Ret) Jerry Boykin, citing uncleanliness and privacy as main reasons why women should not be treated equally.  I, personally, am offended by this argument and I think many women feel the same.


What is lost most when we suggest women don’t belong in combat, when they are already there, is the benefits of being legally “allowed” in combat.  Without legally sanctioning women as combatants, women cannot get treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, we cannot claim combat on our military records, we have no rights to several VA programs available to our male peers because we have never “been in combat” as well as many other things our society takes for granted that only men get for their service.  There are very few services for women veterans, a huge disparity exists between the way male and female veterans are treated.  Worse yet, our families and spouses are not given the same support and respect as those of our male peers who are “legally allowed” in combat.  The layers of mistreatment and inequality run deep.

Unlike Lt Gen (ret) Boykin, however, Admiral (Ret) Eric Olson (SOCOM), Gen (Ret) Stanley McChrystal and Admiral (Ret) William McCraven knew and saw the advantages of having women on their Special Forces teams in 2003, when untrained female soldiers were asked to take time from their primary duties (cooks, supply, etc) to assist at night engaging local women during SF raids through Female Engagement Teams (FET)- significantly increasing intel and safety for their operators.  They knew the importance of this role and wanted to reinstate the program.  This time, in 2011, they wanted to do it right.

So the generals asked the lawyers to find a way to let women on their SOF teams and after some consternation, came up with the “Cultural Support Teams” or CST for short, a concept of women “enablers” (not operators) that would “assist” the teams on missions.  Hundreds of women volunteered from various facets of the military – Active Duty, National Guard and Reserves- all who had been craving an elite challenge like this all their careers.   These were women who hungered for the opportunity to compete and serve in the far more exciting roles of hand to hand combat they had imagined they would be involved in when they joined the military instead of the mundane desk jobs they had all been forced to take due only to their gender.

They were given physical tests up to SF standards and those that failed were sent home.  Once they passed the minimums, they went through a grueling condensed version of the Ranger and the Special Operations pipeline, learning teambuilding, problem solving, medical skills, shooting, moving and above all-patience and resolve.  These women showed their tenacity and strength- eager to have the opportunity to serve at the tip of the spear and hell-bent on not screwing it up.

After training, the women were assigned across Afghanistan to “assist” the Ranger and Special Forces teams.  Never were they allowed to wear the badges or consider themselves actual special operators- but they were in all aspects warriors and elite forces.  The men they served with recognized that.


1Lt Ashley White was just one of these women.  One who could climb ropes in full gear countless times over, who could run faster, do more pushups and still bake better cookies than many of her male counterparts, all while doing it with a smile on her face.  She was a leader and a pioneer.  Courageous and patriotic.  She is just one example of a woman, when given the chance to compete, outshone anyone’s expectations.

I respectfully disagree with Lt Gen Boykin that we are only now socially experimenting with women in combat because we are lifting the ban.  In reality, the American people and Department of Defense have been socially experimenting with women in combat for centuries without giving us credit for our accomplishments or protection from our disparagers.  Instead we have been asked to serve, to live in danger away from our families, to respond willingly to our nation’s call which we have all done faithfully, without the recognition of our service on any level all while being told we don’t belong there.  While we have done this for years without recognition in hopes that our performance and tenacity would demonstrate our value and worth, we still find ourselves being accused of being “handicapped” because of our gender – without being given the chance to disprove it or recognized when we do.

This is a shame on our society.  These young women deserve our gratitude, our respect and the recognition that they showed up to the challenge and asked nothing in return- except the opportunity to continue serving.


There is no reason women cannot be in special operations.  And there is no reason that women should not lead our troops or our nation.  The only reason that should keep us from doing these things is if we, women, don’t exist.  We cannot fight a war “Half-Hearted” we should not live in a nation that is “Half-Hearted”.  It takes all of us using our gifts as God intended in order to truly make our nation stronger.

#SheServed #TOML #BeTheChange #AshleyWhite #Womenincombat



Be Bold, Be #1

The best career advice I ever received was from a coworker at a deployed location when I was contemplating how to prepare an evaluation on my performance.


It was 2014, and I was the first female pilot in this particular office.  I felt like Veronica Corningstone from “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy”.  Guys were upset they had to professionalize their behavior and work around a woman.  I was definitely the outsider and the unwelcomed one.  Some things were sabotaged for me, other times I was blocked from information I needed.   To be honest, the movie “Anchorman” does a great job of satirizing what is really not far from reality.   The ‘bro network’ was real in that office and I worked hard to not only overcome it but to show my peers we could all still be fun and professional while getting the job done. The end of my tour was nearing, however, and it was time for my evaluation.

We aren’t really supposed to “draft” our own evaluations, but the reality is that no one knows or cares about our careers like we do (which feels icky to say but is reality of the hyper-competitive “up or out” construct of the DoD).  I had been working on my own draft and reached the last line, the line that stratified me against my peers.  I put my customary space block in the line “#X/XX officers” when my peer looked over at my computer and asked “Jenn, why are you putting a space holder there?  Put ‘#1/12 Officers’ and make the colonel tell you why you AREN’T #1.  You work your butt off here, why should you be anything less than #1?”

I had to force myself to think this

His advice was eye opening for me.  I had been working my tail end off, feeling like I had to prove that I belonged and that I could do the hard work.  I came in early every day and left late, I was a confidant to the deputy and always a voice of reason when things went sideways – and he recognized it!  But I still could not accept that I was “worthy” or had worked hard enough to compete with the fighter pilots in the office (the same ones that had been sabotaging me and blocking me even).  I realize now I was experiencing “Imposter Syndrome”- a perception of low self value despite high achievement.  But as a woman in the military, I was experiencing what many of us do, that “there was more exected of me in order to gain acceptance and respect” General Ann Dunwoody (US Army, Ret.), A Higher Standard.


I took a big gulp and boldly put “#1/12 Officers” as my friend and colleague advised, saved the document, and sent it up through my chain of command.  “There is no way he will keep this on as my strat”, I thought to myself, “not with all the guys I have to compete with and the ‘bro network’ that is so firmly established here.”  I was selling myself short and really preparing myself for what I thought was inevitable disappointment.

Boy was a wrong and surprised.  My evaluation came back as I had written it, and in my outbrief, the Colonel gave me credit and feedback on all kinds of things he had noticed me doing that he never had the opportunity to fully recognize me for.

I learned a valuable lesson from that deployment and from my friend.  Be Bold and demand, if not expect, the recognition you deserve for what you have done.  Too many of us shrink from recognition, or think we don’t deserve it.  It’s okay to ask “why am I not the #1 person here?” as long as you are ready to hear the reasons why and put in the work to fix it.  Have courage and confidence in yourself and your efforts.  Even in the most challenging of jobs, you deserve to be there and to be recognized for what you do.


*The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and are not of any institution.

#befierce #bethechange #womenincombat #womanpilot #AirForce #impostersyndrome #diversity #leadership

Youngest soloist to fly around the world!

Ms. Shaesta Waiz, an Afghani Refugee, completed a solo journey around the world and became the youngest woman to do so.  But that is not the coolest part.


She did it to show that its possible for any woman.

Through her journey,, she raised money for herself and for her cause to spread the world of aviation to young women all around the world!

Way to go Shaesta! You are changing The Milieux for all of us.  Thank you!

#bethechange #befierce

Feminism and Wonder Woman – What you might not know

After Wonder Woman’s successful run at the box office, Director Angela Robinson is releasing another movie, “Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman” (set release date of 27 October), a film meant to discuss some of the back story of creator Professor Marston and his family. It promises to be kinky and sexy, and probably will appeal to some in our modern culture. Buuuttttt…. The story is far more interesting than just a mé·nage à trois, it has much more to do with what Wonder Woman was originally meant to be:


Wonder Woman was a Domme


Professor Moulton Marston had a storied past, something you can read about here at my favorite podcast, Stuff You Missed in History Class.  During his lifetime, 1893-1947, Professor Moulton saw suffragette protests, the invention of birth control, equal rights marches by women, as well as the gender discrimination his own wife endured in her field despite her accomplishments.  The Smithsonian summarizes these cultural issues as well as some of the controversial aspects (like the 27% of the time Wonder Woman is chained up in her comics-suggested to symbolize life before birth control) here.

While his foundational inspirations for creating Wonder Woman (his polygamorous relationship and studies of sexual domination and submission) were unconventional, his intentions were mostly well intentioned and opened up many conversations about women, gender archetypes and gender role issues.  Professor Marston believed and wrote that women were more honest and reliable than men. He posited that the masculine notion of freedom had strong anarchic and violent tendencies. Feminine freedom was derived from what he called ‘Love Allure,’ the masculine submission to which would create a higher state of societal order.


In the American Scholar, Marston himself wrote “Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive and peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.” Linking this to men, he believed that “[having] an alluring woman stronger than themselves to submit to and they’ll be proud to become her willing slaves.”


These comics were pretty risqué back in 1941, in fact they are incredibly risqué today.  Art has a way of exploring what society may not be fully ready to recognize.  Marston’s vision of feminine power has not been fully realized in the timeline he had guessed (50 years from his lifetime), but things are changing.

We here at the Milieux Project are not advocating for one gender to dominate over another, but only that women and girls should celebrate their strengths and virtues.  The feminine power resides in all of us- men and women- and to omit or ignore it damages our psyches and our society.

Wonder Woman was a great vehicle to explore the beauty and strength of all of us. Even if she was a little over the top sometimes…


#bethechange #befierce #Aphrodite #wonderwoman



3rd Annual Valor Run

On October 21, 2017, men and women veterans and their supporters will be participating in the 3rd annual Tribute Only Valor Run – 
“Valor Run, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded in 2014. Our mission is to unite communities through running events to honor the U.S. military women who have served our nation 9/11, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice while supporting combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Anyone interested can run the distance from where ever you are, just pre-register here

Youtube Video

 #sheserved  #valorrun #valorrrun10miler #valorrun5k #UltimateSacrifice #NeverForget #sheserved #honorthefallen #womensmemorial #sistersinservice #bethechange

Zenobia and Mavia- Ancient Warrior Queens

Continuing our effort to break the gender role confirmation bias in modern society for the sacred cow belief that somehow women are not warriors (what we believe is a source of great cognitive dissonance for many young women) we bring you two Arabian queens who, motivated by female rulers before them, rose to rule the Levant in quick succession in the 3rd and 4th century- Zenobia and Mavia.

Both of these women were born into paltry beginnings, daughters in nomadic tribes that quickly ascended to tribe leaders due largely to their intelligence and courage.

Zenobia continued building her empire after the death of her husband, Odaentheus, expanding her empire of Palmyra from this


Palmyra under Odaenthus

   to this

Palmyra under Zenobia


Rome obviously had difficulty accepting this amount of expansion so close to their own empire and after three rigorous battles between 272 and 274 were able to defeat Zenobia (or she made a truce – history is not precise in this regard) leaving her empire to exist essentially under Roman rule.


Zenobia in chains
Zenobia in Chains, Harriet Hosmer 1859


The area struggled under Roman Rule until Mavia 100 years later, rallying “semi-nomadic tribes” in the area of modern Syria for rebellion.  Her conquest was of a greater scale, and military conquest of greater magnitude, although less is recorded about her. Eventually, the Roman empire sought truce with her, combining forces against the Goth.

These women are only a few of the examples in history of valiance, courage, and military might.  Transcending the false Roman perceptions that women were conniving, fearful and inconsistent, these women new the destiny of themselves and their people and acted on it.  They are only two examples in history of many women leaders.  Let them inspire you to do something great today!  #bethechange #themilieux #womenwarriors


Latikia, Syria


Advocating for our Love


At the Milieux Project, @Aviatrix97 and I believe in our true love, military aviation.  We are grateful for all our #sistersinservice and #femalepilots that share our passion.

Capt Susan Finch is just that kind of woman.  Please watch the Air Force video highlighting her passion that we all share.  What an amazing young lady!

The Air Force is an amazing opportunity for flight, we love to share the opportunity!

#bethechange #diversity #girlpilot #airforce #beapilot


Jehanne d’Arc: Follow Your Instincts


Assumed to be born in 1412, Joan of Arc is one of history’s most enigmatic personalities.  Pious warrior and visionary, Jehanne d’Arc or Jehanne Tarc, Jehanne Romée or possibly Jehanne de Vouthon, maintains a special place in history for France and Christians world wide for her courage, wisdom and dedication to the church and the Dauphin, the eldest son of the king.

In a time of much controversy and war (specifically, the 100 years war), Joan was a peasant girl who claimed to be visited by angels she claimed inspired her to rise up to defeat the enemies of the Dauphin and make him king of France.  Never questioning her visions or mission, at the age of 16, Joan traveled to the strongholds of the uncrowned heir to the thrown, Charles VII, to pronounce her loyalty and desire to fight for the dauphin and was rejected.  This was only her first set back, and when she returned a year later, she was brought to the Dauphin’s court after an 11 day journey, some trickery and three weeks of questioning before she was given audience with the Dauphin himself.

He gave her a small unit of about seven men and she traveled to Orleans, where she was ordered not to fight until more reinforcements arrived.  After a week of waiting, Joan was “awoken by inspiration”, dressed in her battle gear and led the French forces to victory, earning her the title of “The Maid of Orleans”.

“The Maid of Orleans” Entrance of Joan of Arc into Reims in 1429, painting by Jan Matejko

Joan d’Arc continued to provide military council and strategic advice to the Dauphin, winning many battles and advancing his cause by her military genius. After a successful campaign at Chalons, and an official consecration of Charles VII, Joan followed the Dauphin until he started losing faith in his own strategy.  Growing weary of his vascillations (she was known to have a temper), Joan went on to sneak into a fight at Compiegne.  She fought bravely and stayed behind as the troops retreated, finding herself unmounted and vulnerable to capture.  Joan d’Arc gave herself up to the English to face 70 charges and accusations of heresy.

Joan of Arc is inspirational to all young women.  Having been born in one of histories most challenging times for women, Joan navigated the milieu of unquestionable piety and feminine subordination to fight for something she believed was right with all of her possession. She is only one example of the grace and courage all young women possess.  It is up to us to encourage it in one another.
#bethechange #sistersinservice #leadership #diversity

Be Yourself

There have been times in my career where I have felt I needed to be less “me”.  In most cases I would try to be one of the guys (somewhat easy since I grew up a tomboy), in others I would try to act more aloof, and in all cases I would try to hide that I was an introvert.   What I took too long to realize, was all of those traits made me the aviator and officer I needed to be.   Why did it take me so long?  Sadly, sometimes it was some of the other women around me that encouraged me to behave in a way contrary to my natural self.  Whether it was the Group commander during my C-21A flying days who told me “cut your hair, if you leave your hair long you’re giving the impression you don’t take this job seriously,” or one of my instructor pilots in T-37’s telling me “if you don’t do the shots of tequila like the rest of the guys, they won’t accept you into the group.”   Back then, I believed them.  So I cut my hair, I did the shots, I tried to act like one of the guys.  Now, I look back and realize it was given bad information…and they had also been given that same info, as they fought for footing (paving the way for the rest of us) in the military aviation community.

One of the reasons my friend @milieux01 wanted to start this project was to reach out to other female aviators and share some of the lessons we have learned and link them up with more role models and better information than we had.

So, what would I say to myself now and to others that follow?  Be a bit more like Jacqueline Cochran:  be yourself.


I am not saying you should be Jackie Cochran, but rather you should be comfortable in your own skin. She definitely did not believe there was any such thing as “too female.”

Jackie Cochran, beautician, air racer, record setter, and W.A.S.P., was unapologetically herself.  She thrived in the masculine environment of aviation, accomplished more for aviation than most remember, and did so without sacrificing her femininity.  The following is from her biography provided by The National Aviation Hall of Fame:  

“Indeed, Jackie’s balance between feminine charm and hard-driving masculine ambition was such that she would push her aircraft relentlessly through air races and competitions…but refused to emerge victorious from the cockpit until she had carefully checked and reapplied her makeup!”


“As would be the case again and again in her life, by sheer force of will, Jackie prevailed”.

Being a successful pilot has nothing to do with gender…it is all training and hard work.  Embrace the qualities that make you the person you are — add to your strengths, work on your weaknesses, but never think you need to hide who you are.   Work hard, be professional, be good at your job.  Soon your achievements will speak for themselves.


“Don’t Command Afraid”

Flight to AMARG

This is a personal post, and may be a bit emotional.  But emotional for good reason.  I see and feel people and situations beyond the surface…at times with a bit more empathy than I would like.  Maybe it is because I’m a woman, maybe it is because I was raised in a small town in Wisconsin, and maybe it is just because I care.  The night before I was to take command of a 140 member squadron, one with the primary mission of enabling training and employment for combat search and rescue units, I was…emotional.   A bit of self-doubt, some concern about “am I good enough to lead these great men and women”, and a lot of “will I make the right decisions?”  Someone I respect greatly had a very simple answer for me that night:  “Don’t command afraid.”   This became the foundation of my years in command as I was determined to follow a motto of:  Be you, be present, be genuine, and don’t command afraid.

“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”
Abraham Lincoln

Not all leadership decisions have a clear correct choice.  Each option has pitfalls and each option has the potential to negatively impact another aspect of the mission.  But putting off a decision due to fear of failure, or even worse making no decision at all, is a failure of leadership.  Consult peers who have faced similar dilemmas, query superiors who have learned through their own trials (and may even have more information to add to the puzzle), and most of all reflect on the overall goal and direction this decision is going to take your unit.  As leaders, we are not expected to have all the answers, but we are expected to take in the information and make a decision.  So make a decision.  If it ends up being the wrong decision, then own up to it, regroup and move forward.

“If you can’t stomach failure, you will never be a great leader.”
Admiral Bill McRaven

At some point, you are going to fail.  I failed often as a leader and a commander.  But each failure offered opportunities to learn from my mistakes.    I am not saying we should accept failure — accepting and stomaching failure are two different things.  Accept that you will fail and learn from it.  We cannot be afraid to make decisions due to fear of failure.  Fearing failure can lead to being adverse to risk.  Being adverse to risk can reduce your chances of your team achieving success.  Trust your team, allow them to learn and grow.  They don’t expect you to be perfect, but they do expect you to lead.  Sometimes you will be right, and sometimes you will be wrong.  The key is learning from your mistakes and demonstrating to the men and women under your command that you can accept ownership of your failures, correct course and move on.

“Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.”
Stephen R. Covey

Choose your battles.  Everything cannot be important all the time and it is your job as a commander to protect your people from that type of leader.  Be selective in your arguments, the projects you task to personnel, and the goals you set for your unit.  At times it can be a juggling act where some of the balls are glass and some are rubber.  If your goals run contrary to those of your boss, it may be time to reassess the situation.  If you fight every battle, you will wear out both yourself and your people.  Do not be afraid to let some of the rubber balls bounce.

“Don’t command afraid.”

Be present.  Listen.  Trust your people.  Stand-up for them.  Command does not mean popular.  You are not their friend.   Do not let fear of rocking the boat guide your decisions.  Do not let fear of failure lead you to micromanaging your people.  Do not let your fear of confrontation prevent you from enforcing discipline or making unpopular, but necessary, decisions.

Whatever you do, don’t command afraid.  Whether it is your own self-doubt, personal insecurity,  fear that not following the party line will negatively impact your career progression,  or concerns over whether or not you will be taken seriously as a woman leading in a service that is still nearly 80% male (and less than 18% of U.S. Air Force pilots are women), just remember to be you, be present, be genuine and don’t command afraid.

“The stripes don’t mean flight attendant”

I came across this article while reminiscing about the most fun I had ever had in an airplane.  My friend Jessica and I earned our commercial single engine sea rating at Kenmore Air in 2010.  When we were there, I witnessed a young woman effortlessly push a de Havilland Beaver off the dock, jump onto the float, slide into her seat and fire up the engine…all in less than 5 seconds.   I was in awe.  She is a certifiable badass and someone who identified her goal and went for it!


She’s a woman, but when Michelle Cowan climbs into a seaplane, she is a pilot first. As Kenmore Air’s first, full-time female pilot certified to fly the entire fleet, she gets some curious looks from passengers. But she simply smiles and says, “The stripes don’t mean flight attendant.” Read more about Captain Michelle Cowen!

Lyudmila Pavlichenko: Ukranian Sniper


This week’s badass woman of history is one of histories most deadliest snipers, Major Lyudmila Pavlichenko, aka Lady Death.

After an attack on her beloved university in Kiev, Ukraine, Maj Pavlichenko approached recruiters with her civilian expert shooting certificates and asked to join the infantry.

“She looked like a model, with well-manicured nails, fashionable clothes, and hairstyle. Pavlichenko told the recruiter that she wanted to carry a rifle and fight. The man just laughed and asked her if she knew anything about rifles,” wrote of Pavlichenko’s effort to join the military.


Pavlichenko persisted and after a short training pipeline, was sent to the front lines to defend her nation, killing 187 Germans in her first 75 day of war.  She sustained many injuries during her service, the final injury, a mortar explosion to her face, took her permanently off of the battlefield and into a training and political role.

Maj Pavlichenko was a badass from birth, competing and winning in anything she put her mind to.  When visiting the United States, and after being asked too many ridiculous question about her femininity and how it fit into battle she responded finally “Gentlemen, I am 25 years old and I have killed 309 fascist invaders by now. Don’t you think, gentlemen, that you have been hiding behind my back for too long?”


“I am amazed at the kind of questions put to me by the women press correspondents in Washington. Don’t they know there is a war? They asked me silly questions such as do I use powder and rouge and nail polish and do I curl my hair? One reporter even criticized the length of the skirt of my uniform, saying that in America women wear shorter skirts and besides my uniform made me look fat…This made me angry. I wear my uniform with honor. It has the Order of Lenin on it. It has been covered with blood in battle. It is plain to see that with American women what is important is whether they wear silk underwear under their uniforms. What the uniform stands for, they have yet to learn.”

Maj Pavlichenko had the warrior spirit.  Whether spending days in bristle bushes waiting for a German Sniper to move or falling 12 feet out of a tree and feigning death for a day to avoid being killed, Pavlichenko was determined to stop the German advance. ““Every German who remains alive will kill women, children and old folks,” she said. “Dead Germans are harmless. Therefore, if I kill a German, I am saving lives.”

Being a great killer or soldier has nothing to do with gender- it is purely mindset and training.


Valerie Andre: le General helicopter pilot

A little known piece of history is that one of the earliest proponents of modern day helicopter rescue and medical evacuation is credited to le General Valerie Andre, a French doctor and highly decorated helicopter pilot.

le General Valerie Andre began her career in 1948, entering the service as a pilot, parachutist and army surgeon.  During her service, she connected the utility of a vertical lift platform to urgent medical care.  In 1951, she piloted an aircraft during a conflict in Vietnam to pick up casualties in urgent need of care. She is credited with 165 more sorties in that conflict and a total of 365 combat missions in Algeria and other nations and was promoted to general in 1981 for her actions and service.

Thanks to pioneers such as le General Andre, we have modern combat casualty evacuation and combat search and rescue.  While le General never earned a pilot certificate, she has over 4000 hrs in helicopters and 7 citations of the croix de guerre.

Watch her flying here– what an incredibly courageous and visionary leader.

Khutulun: It’s normal to be a badass girl

One of the challenges of our modern western milieu is the implicit bias that, despite numerous examples otherwise, steers us into believing women are somehow not athletic or strong, competitive or political.  Laypersons make sweeping generalizations about women (uhhhh…. Google guy James Damore), and through confirmation bias, deceive themselves into thinking they are righteous or right in their characterization of us.  These generalizations limit young girls and women, intentionally or unintentionally stovepiping our youth into thinking they are not what they could be.  Being encouraged to “get along with others” further cements these limiting characterizations on those girls who might otherwise have tried to strike out on their own.  Its time for that to change.

In  the first of a series of badass girls of history, I would like to introduce, Khutulun, Mongolian Princess.


Princess Khutulun was born to Kaidu, decendent of Ghengis Khan, and most powerful ruler in central Asia in the second century.  She had 14 brothers, was undefeated in Mongolian wrestling, accumulating 10000 horses in wagers otherwise, and grew up to be her father’s trusted right hand general in battle.  In his travel journals, Marco Polo marveled at Khutulun’s beauty, strength and athleticism.  He chronicled one of Khutulun’s favorite tactics in war; riding her horse hard toward her enemy and “plucking” a soldier from the battlefield like a hawk and laying his dismembered body proudly in front of her father.  I’m sure old google guy would crack under the anxiety of possibly being the victim of her assault.

This is truly an example of nurture over what some presume to be nature.  There is only one chromosome difference between men and women.  All fetuses are women until the genetic code of that chromosome is activated.  Let us not forget that no one of us is inferior to the other.  We are all equal, capable and have the potential to be badasses of our own right.  With the right mixture of support, opportunity and encouragement, we could tap into a whole power we did not allow ourselves to imagine existed.  Sure, not everyone is fit to be a certain ideal, but Khutulun is just one example of many that broke the mold.  I can’t wait to share more with you.



It’s not “too”

Sheryl Sandburg, author of Lean In, has been a great advocate for women’s empowerment and equality but there is just one small thing that is off about her message. It’s not that girls should be taught they can be “great leaders, too” but that that they have amazing talents and they need to take risks.

This is her message, that girls should be taught to be great leaders, too, in her newest article in Fortune Magazine

There should no longer be comparison or measuring one gender against the other. One gender doesn’t have the market cornered in the art of leadership- even though we have been taught that they have.  Both genders are capable of amazing things.  We just have to encourage everyone- men and women- to be our best. 

Girls should be encouraged to lead.  Period.

#instagramstories #ff #girlsinc #leanin

Because I’m a girl

Everyday our achievements can be diminished by our peers by the simple phrase “you achieved that because you are a girl/woman” or “management/instructors/the boss goes easy on you because you are a girl/woman” or “that was great for a woman”.

Who knows why they say it- but let’s remind ourselves why we keep doing it… 

Because I’m a girl

#girlsinc #diversity #bethechange 

“Up, Down and from all sides”


In 2015, at about the same time that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsburg made the above statement about the best number of women on the Supreme Court in an interview, Air Force Secretary Deborah James began her Diversity and Inclusion Initiative; a call for all MAJCOMs (Major Commands) to participate in a week long discussion on diversity and barriers to diversity in the AF.

This was an opportunity of a lifetime for me. I was at HQ staff, the only female aviator among 5 male generals, and I was in the room as our commander, Gen Hawk Carlisle, began discussing it with his staff. What a surreal moment. I wish I had read Justice Ginsburg’s quote before the discussion, because after we broke from that meeting, mind numbing analysis of numbers and percentages of women vs men in every career field in every year and every circumstance subsequently ensued unbridled among his staff and I was caught up in the flurry. I wish I had her perspective- that we will not really achieve true diversity until we have all women or all minorities as the majority (and therefore reducing how taboo the idea of women in the military is)- I would not have wasted so much time analyzing statistics as I would have focused on simply increasing the numbers because 20% is still not enough.

After I participated in our whirlwind of panels, and after the intense momentum for diversity waned, a coworker asked me to talk to him more about my thoughts on how to tackle diversity.  This wasn’t just any coworker, this was Gen T. Michael Moseley’s son, Col Greg Moseley, a great American and aviator whom I respect and admire, and someone I believe will one day have enterprise wide effects on the Air Force. He asked me how I thought the AF should increase diversity, I was flattered and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to give him my thoughts.

He asked if I thought we should use a top down or bottom up approach to recruit more women? And, thinking of Justice Ginburg’s quote, I said “we should use a bottom up, top down and from all the sides, any way you can squeeze new thinkers in kind of approach”

Of course he thought I was joking, but I wasn’t. I was serious. Why not put a whole lot of women all over the ranks to diversify how we think?

Later, a brand new Lt that I had worked with as a Staff Sergeant said she was asked a similar question at a panel our A1 (personnel branch) held. When she was asked what approach the AF should take when it came to recruiting women, she told me she said “we have to select the best of the best women because we don’t want to fail”.

I laughed and asked why? Why do we as women put so much pressure on ourselves not to fail? It’s like we all think being a woman is a handicap.

In a half joking way I said, “let’s get em all in, who cares? Our recruiters accept males of all creed, efficacy level and competency, along with the best of the best men, why should we limit the women we accept arbitrarily because we are some minority?  She was taken aback, I challenged the status quo and I don’t think she was ready for it : )  but my point was made.

We will never know the barriers women face in the military if we keep choosing women that are strong and resilient and over achievers. These are the women who are willing to push through unequal treatment, bad jokes, and road blocks to meet their goals. They graduate at the top of their classes and far outperform their male peers and the public is surprised and impressed. But we never accept or understand that the institution chose women who will not fail. These women hardly complain- because they are the best of the best and they know they cannot fail.

The women who stay and “tough it out” eventually burn out though. We need women who will fail and fail hard, but not just from the bottom up but from the side and at the top so it becomes less scandalous, less sensational, more realistic, and more acceptable to actually analyze the institutional issues instead of scrutinizing the women who are trying not to fail.

This is what was great about Shannon Faulkner’s fight to enter (and later quit) the Citadel in 1993. Sometimes it is okay to fail in order to bring attention to milieux that are not accepting to minorities.  And attention did follow Ms. Faulkner’s case, the Citadel was forced to truly reckon with its discrimination policies.  I dislike how much society made her a scapegoat, but her decision to quit changed history.

etick_santini14_412 Faulkner

I think about the pressure women feel to be perfect and not fail with every female Airman I meet. Do I bond with them, do I champion for them, do I provide not only a role model but also an advocate for them?  Am I creating the environment that makes them feel like we are a team and accept them as my sisters?  Admittedly, I pretty much come short every time.  But as I work toward improving myself, I work towards growing out of the minority group think and into the majority, not only in my workplace but in my perspective. I think that, once we grow out of the minority mindset and accept that we will one day be the majority, our perceived barriers will tumble down and Judge Ginsburg’s idea will become reality.  And as I share my message, I realize more and more each day that I am not alone in this vision.


#ruthbaderginsburg #diversity #citadel #sistersinservice #she #leadership #disruption #serviceacademies #femaleaviator