By Senior Master Sgt. Sharee Chabot, 17th Training Group
/ Published April 01, 2014
GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
Editor's note: This is 17th Training Group's Senior Master Sgt. Sharee Chabot's speech from the Women's History Luncheon at Event Center here March 27.
Thank you Colonel Blake for the kind introduction. I'd like to take the time to thank this year's committee for giving me the opportunity to speak at this event. I am honored to be here with all of you. Colonel Joos, Mrs. Schmidt, Mrs. Good, Chief Cantu, Colonel and Mrs. Kline, Colonel and Mrs. Harris, Colonel Bernardi, and guests, thank you for taking the time to attend this luncheon and for showing your support for Women's History Month. In this demanding time, it would be easy for us to focus our attention on the here and now instead of celebrating our history, so again, thank you.
The theme for this year is Celebrating Women of Character, Courage and Commitment. History is full of examples of amazing women who fit these traits, some in the military and some not. One could argue that most, if not all, of the women in this room have, or will, fit these traits throughout different points in their lives.
While brain storming my topic for this event, I decided early on that I didn't want to focus on a specific historical leader, not because I don't think that is important, but because I thought to myself, there must be a reason the committee chose me to speak at their event. What can I bring to the table that will not disappoint them, or diminish all of their hard work? I am not what you would call a humorous or imaginative person, so I decided I better stick to what I know best, and that is my own personal experiences in the military. I decided to take this opportunity to share with the junior enlisted members in the audience; regardless of branch of service, although I will most often refer to Airmen as well as our audience members that may have a daughter or niece thinking about joining the military, what aspects of character, courage and commitment they will experience in the service.
Unfortunately, the Department of Defense in general has been negatively highlighted in the media lately for their treatment of service members, but especially that of women. So much so that some of you may be leery of supporting a family member's decision to join the military. I'd like to take this opportunity to tell you, and them, some of the experiences in my career that demonstrates our militaries character, courage and commitment to help ease some of your misgivings. I will give you examples of each shortly, but the one thing that has been constant that I would tell our junior enlisted members, or future members, is that throughout their careers, as with anything in life, they are guaranteed to face challenges and rewards in everything that they do and that the trick is to focus on the rewards. Let me give you a few examples.
First up, character.
One thing that I didn't mention previously, that I will now, is that I believe we should all reflect on what character, courage and commitment mean to us personally, so that we can recognize it when we see it and emulate it in our actions. To draw on where I might have displayed the type of character fitting for a Women's History example, I chose a definition Colonel Harris gives to our students every Tuesday at base in-processing. He tells them character is "that part of each person that is the difference between impulse and action" and "the action you take to carry out the values, ethics and morals you believe in," so how does my character - or my impulse, action, values, ethics and the morals I believe in - fit into my experience in the military thus far? This is one of the challenges I encounter almost daily, but I am most aware of it during a counseling session.
As women, we are raised to be more sensitive than men, more compassionate, open and sympathetic, to have more empathy and to be more loving. In the military, from the very beginning of basic training, we are told to maintain military bearing at all times, which amounts to hiding all of the emotions and characteristics that are engrained in us since birth. This can cause a sort of identity crisis in women in the military because we are learning, or hopefully learning, a whole new way of interacting with people. Essentially, we have to change our character. However, this only applies at work. We are still expected to be sensitive, compassionate and loving in our personal relationships and with our families. This can be tough, but it is possible, women in the military do it all the time, even though we may falter at times, but here comes the reward. Remember, I said there will always be challenges and there will always be rewards.
The reward is, every now and then, our feminine side is an asset. There will be that moment when someone will come to you with an issue that you can relate to, regardless of your rank or theirs, and you can let your guard down and help them through their tough times. We may not be able to shed our military bearing completely, but our sensitivity can help them feel cared about. When these moments come along the feeling of knowing you were able to help someone through a tough time is indescribable - it's beyond rewarding. Men in the audience please don't take this as an insult or that I am saying you are incapable of sympathy, I'm just saying it is more ingrained in our character. Now let's discuss courage...
It takes courage to be in the military, for men and women, but let's face it women, we stand out. I would be lying if I said I've never noticed. Since the military is predominantly male, more often than not when I looked around a room I realize I am the only female in there. This can be a good thing because it presents me with a unique opportunity to lend a female perspective to topics. Also, as a female in a predominantly male service, you are almost always guaranteed a spot on intramural sports teams since they generally have a one female minimum rule. Since this is aimed at evening the playing field, our sports abilities are often underestimated, which can make you feel like a superstar when you rock it, but all joking aside, standing out presents challenges too, and facing these challenges takes courage.
For example, when I was at my first duty assignment, I broke the cardinal rule that we are taught at basic training, which is never volunteer for anything. I volunteered to attend SERE school, or Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape. This school teaches military members that are vulnerable to capture how to do exactly what the name says: survive, evade, resist and escape. My supervisor at the time, who coincidentally was my instructor here at Goodfellow, asked for volunteers to fill empty slots at the school. I volunteered because I thought it would be fun and because I am very competitive. You see, my first assignment was at a joint base with mostly Marines, and they not only said "no" but "heck no," because that is exactly how they would say it, to voluntarily going to SERE. If you haven't heard there is a bit of rivalry between the services, and I felt I had to do my part by showing up the Marines and volunteering to go. Maybe not my wisest moment, but I wouldn't change it for anything.
It was absolutely the best training ever. I believe everyone in the intelligence community should go through it. The evasion training and prisoner of war camp were so well conducted and realistic that you thought you would actually break under interrogation and some people did, which sounds like a bad thing, but it really puts what we do into perspective when you realize the danger and harm's way you put others in if you don't do your job to the utmost of your ability at all times.
So what does this SERE school experience have to do with me having courage besides me showing up the Marines? It goes back to as females in the military we stand out. If we are captured down range our enemies will use us to get information from our male counter parts. They think we are their weakness because engrained in their character is the need to protect us. As it happens, I was the only female in my flight, so let's just say I received a lot of extra attention from the instructors to prove their point. Some of my cell mates told them what they wanted to hear, while some actually laughed at my extra attention and didn't care one ounce what happened to me. We don't all have the same character traits.
This experience taught me early on that my gender can make me a target and that I would stand out in my chosen career. I knew that if I wanted to stay in and be successful, I couldn't shy away from that fact. I had to have the courage to own it, and make my place in the Air Force as other women have done before me, and others will have to do after me. I still believe that SERE school is hands down the most impacting course I have taken. It taught me courage I didn't know I had in me and was both challenging and rewarding at the same time.
Now here comes the tough one for me to talk about because it involves family.
Commitment is the easiest to understand but the hardest to balance. This presents a daily challenge for me and one that I believe I fail at miserably, and I'll tell you why. To me, the very first thing I think of when I hear the word commitment is our core value of Service Before Self. I think of spending long days at work more often than not to get the job done right. We are in an environment of doing less with more and most of us have heard the statistic of 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work. If you happen to be one of the 20 percenters, as I feel I am and hope my leadership would agree, you are probably fully committed to work and getting the mission done. You fulfill the whole person concept with off-duty education and weekend community involvement. This sounds like the ideal service member, but being a woman, the likely hood exists that you are also a wife and mother or hope to be one day.
So where does that fit in with Service Before Self? You've probably heard the old joke that "if the service wanted you to have a family, they would have issued you one." For those in the Air Force, you have probably also heard that Service Before Self does not mean service before family or service before all else, but let's be honest, sometimes, and I stress sometimes, it does mean that. Otherwise, we would never deploy or go TDY at inconvenient times. We'd never miss first steps, birthdays, graduations, holidays or anniversaries. We wouldn't miss a play or first dental appointment because of an important meeting, so what if we, as women want it all? Commitment to service and commitment to family? If you can figure out how to do that, and do it well, please pass the secret on to me because I haven't figured it out yet.
This is the question I get most frequently as a senior NCO and mother. How do you manage your commitment to both? My honest answer to this question, even though I say it somewhat lightheartedly, is that I don't. I am pretty good at committing all out to the military, but I am failing in fully committing to my family. In my mind, if I commit fully to each, I'm really only giving 50 percent to work and 50 percent to family, because there is only so much time in the day. I'm probably closer to 90/10. Finding the right balance between work and family is the ultimate challenge, but here's the rewarding part.
On the work front supporting the mission and ultimately getting the job done right is rewarding in itself, but what is also rewarding is being given the opportunity for your children to watch you lead a formation in a Veterans Day parade, and they give you a poppy at the end and tell you that they are proud of you. It's even more rewarding when you get the I love yous, bear hugs and butter fly kisses when you put them to bed at night.
So there are challenges with being a woman in the military, but there are also infinite rewards. My advice to our junior members, and anyone thinking about joining the military, is to face the challenges head on; learn from them and move on, but focus on the rewards, capture them, remember them and call on them as a reminder during the challenging times. If the rewarding memories outweigh the challenges, then you are doing it right. So far for me, as I look back on my balance sheet, the rewards are winning. I see subordinates I've been able to help, their careers progressing and families growing. I still get the I loves yous, bear hugs and butterfly kisses from my children at night, so I seem to be doing something right, even if sometimes it doesn't quite feel like it. Being a person of character, courage and commitment 100 percent of the time is challenging to maintain, but the rewards are 100 percent worth the effort.
Thank you again to the committee for inviting me and to all of you for coming out today.