A salute to working moms

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Donna O'Harren
  • 311th Training Squadron commander
As I pondered what to write about for this week's commentary, the topic hit me like an apple on the head and the timing couldn't have been better. Timed with the month of May and Mother's Day, it's a perfect time to reflect on being a working mom and think about all of my 'sisters in arms' who are also working military moms.

There is an unspoken understanding and bond among this sisterhood whereby we know the challenges and rewards of being a mother in uniform. I never realized it until I became one myself a little more than five years ago changing my life completely. I don't think I'll ever forget the sinking feeling that came over me the first day I dropped my 6-week-old daughter off at the daycare center and returned to work. I seriously questioned whether I had what it would take to be a working mom in the Air Force. "Was I doing the right thing for my daughter and was I doing the right thing for myself?" I wondered.

Balancing daycare logistics with duty requirements was a challenge but I somehow made it all work. As the days, weeks and months proceeded, I adjusted and settled into a manageable routine and daycare turned out to be a wonderful place for my daughter to develop, grow and have fun. This all reassured me that I made the right move. I'm sure this experience sounds familiar to other Air Force moms.

Two important factors in my ability to balance motherhood and Air Force service have been my incredibly supportive, dedicated husband and my graciously supportive supervisors. I have been fortunate to have supervisors who understood whenever I had to depart work on short-notice when daycare called for me to pick up my sick child, or if I had to be at a special daycare event that was important to my children and their providers. In turn, I have 'paid it forward' by offering the same level of understanding to those whom I've supervised. Parents understand other parents on this.

With a husband who works full-time and travels a lot, work and family requires some extra balancing, logistics and legwork. Whenever my husband is on temporary duty, it reminds me of how much more difficult life would be if I were a single parent in the Air Force. My hat goes off to single moms and dads who manage to balance the awesome responsibilities of parenthood and Air Force service. That takes a special level of commitment that I admire tremendously.

Now that I have two small children and am a commander, life is busier than ever. Naturally, due to the demands of the job, I don't have as much time to spend with my family as I would like. Thank goodness my husband is mercifully patient, has tons of energy to entertain the kids and is an outstanding chef! Nonetheless, my family is still the most important thing to me, and I deeply appreciate their sacrifices and understanding without which my ability to be an effective commander would not be possible.

I feel privileged to have the opportunity to serve in two very important roles, as a mom and as an Air Force officer. I've been fortunate to have some great role models to follow : first, my own wonderful mother, who sacrificed her career as a special education teacher to raise seven children, a full-time, over-time job in itself!; and all the other Air Force moms who have served in leadership roles, both enlisted and officer, some married and some single moms. They've all inspired me along the way and shown me that motherhood and service to our country make a great combined calling. To all Air Force moms, I'm proud to serve with you, and I salute you this Mother's Day!