Written by Sharon Portell
Deep within the Air Force culture, existed an old-school Chief Master Sergeant in charge of hundreds of Airmen and Sergeants. It was my turn to hear his words of wisdom.
I had just given birth to a beautiful baby girl and was in the hospital. My maternity leave had begun at the age of twenty and with the grade of Airman. They called us mosquito wings with a single, lonely stripe flying on our sleeves. Going into labor one week early made me miss my Below-the-Zone Promotion Board. I had studied, bought the new maternity uniform, shined my shoes, and made sure everything was high and tight. The pay jump would be much needed. I poured energy into looking and sounding sharp. Things changed when my daughter made an early appearance.
Back in 1987, if any one Airman missed the Board, it became records only. My supervisor told the Chief of my hospitalization. The Chief changed nothing.
I came into the office to have my four weeks maternity leave processed and signed. The Chief strolled into our office and offered an explanation as to why the Promotion Board would not be changed to records only. “If the Air Force wanted you to have children, they would have issued you them in Basic Training,” he chuckled without emotion. All jaws dropped. He diminished morale and sense of duty with one statement. He openly encouraged sexism and tried to kill my life-long dream. What gave him the right?
Fast forward eighteen years. That same daughter joined the Air Force on my birthday when I was one year away from my military retirement. I had just been awarded Senior Non-commissioned Officer of the Year for the Major Command at squadron level. With that award, came a prize of my choosing and a bronze airman statue. I chose an incentive flight on a KC-135R over Texas. I climbed down and watched our aircraft refuel a fighter plane. We were so close I could see the pilots’ faces. This occurred over Lackland Air Force Base where my daughter was attending her Basic Training. We were both serving on active duty. I was ending my career and she was starting hers.
She has been winning awards her entire career. She won her Below the Zone promotion and many other accolades that I didn’t during my time of service. Did I pave the way and take the heat for her generation? She has not received the same mal-treatment I did during those early years.
Today, my daughter is deployed to defend our country in conditions the Chief never experienced. Does he enjoy his retirement and freedoms today thinking only men protect this country from enemies both foreign and domestic? If so, that old man needs to expand his horizons.