Women's History Month: Diamonds of the Wolf Pack
KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- When most women think of a diamond, they think of something bright and tough, something that can weather anything.
Similarly, first sergeants in the Air Force are tough with an ability to withstand lots of obstacles - they're also outgoing and approachable.
"My son often gets asked, 'What does your mom do in the Air Force?' He replies saying a first sergeant, followed with an explanation of, 'She's like a mom to the Airmen in her squadron'," said Master Sgt. Jennifer Shelley, first sergeant to both the 8th Force Support Squadron and 8th Fighter Wing Staff Agencies.
Here at Kunsan, the Wolf Pack is graced with seven of their very own female first sergeants. These women are in a special career field already, but being a female does make their role a little more unique than most.
"I became a first sergeant because I wanted to broaden my perspective on how the Air Force works," said Shelley. "Additionally, I like helping people. It is very rewarding when you get to make a difference in someone's life."
And these first sergeants do make a difference. First sergeants are charged with the vital task of helping Airmen when they are going through a hard time, no matter the case.
"I think females have a natural ability to nurture," said Shelley. "Therefore, when someone is going through something very emotional, it is very easy for us to take on that motherly role."
"I grew up military and knew what a first sergeant was," said Senior Master Sgt. Karen Muncey, 8th Maintenance Squadron first sergeant. "The first sergeant was always the one person you could turn to when nobody else could help during adverse times, and I wanted to be able to help others overcome adversity in their life. It is something I'm passionate about and am grateful for the opportunity."
While helping others in difficult times is a pro in this duty, it too comes with its own set of cons.
"Biases continue to be a challenge," said Muncey. "I have found that when a male Airman has an issue going on with a spouse, they are concerned to bring that to me for fear that I will automatically side with the spouse and not give them a chance."
Muncey says she values fairness and integrity, so as long an Airman is telling the truth and has evidence to back it up, then the Airman will usually leave feeling relieved.
"I really do care about them and am willing to listen to their side of the story," continued Muncey. "I overcome these challenges by leaning on my own personal values and experiences."
When Muncey first decided to become a first sergeant, her then chief for the medical group, asked her if she was sure she wanted to do it.
"She said, 'You know you will be challenged as a female and you will have to prove yourself every day'," said Muncey. "Being female is not new. I have faced gender bias my entire career and it only gives me a greater appreciation for those who came before me and even more for those that will follow."
She said she's well aware as a female, she is under a microscope - but she also knows what she does can make a difference, even if it's as simple as setting an example.
Another challenge female first sergeants must overcome is the stereotype that since they are female, they won't be as tough in terms of discipline.
"Some might think because we are female that we are going to be easier on them or lax with our standards," said Shelley. "I think they are usually pretty shocked when they find out that isn't the case at all!"
Even with these challenges, these women don't let it deter them in their duties, and they still love their job and the fact there are many women as first sergeants here.
"I definitely think it's neat we have so many females as first sergeants here," said Master Sgt. Richelle Baker, 8th Operations Group first sergeant. "Normally you don't see very many female first sergeants. I was one of two out of 20 at my last base."
"I think it's a great example to set for other female Airmen out there who may be afraid they won't make it that far in the military," said Shelley. "It's good for them to see others who have made it far - the same goes for Falcon and Wolf Chief. It's an inspiration to see, and I'm proud to be part of it."
Like an actual diamond, they are strong enough to withstand the pressures and continue to serve their Airmen on a daily basis. Day or night, these women of the Wolf Pack work hard to ensure their Airmen are always ready to take the fight North.