F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. —
What was your childhood and your up bringing like? What put you on your journey into the Air Force?
I grew up in northern Indiana farm country and my parents had both been born and raised Amish. My dad had been enlisted in the Air Force, but he retired when I was only two years old, so, I don’t really have any memory of the Air Force from that time. But he was stationed at K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base in Marquette, Michigan, when he retired, which was a B-52 base. So, nukes have always been in my life, apparently.
Both of my parents switched over from being Amish to what we call being “English,” which is just not being Amish anymore. My mom was about 18 and my dad was 13 when they switched over. They were a little bit older when they met each other and got married, and then they had me and my younger brother. After dad’s retirement, my parents always worked in the restaurant business, in one way or another. When I was a teenager, they owned their own cafe in our hometown, so I grew up working in the restaurant. From washing dishes to cooking back in the kitchen, to running the grill, to waitressing, I would do that on the weekends and spring breaks and summers. It was from that where I learned to work hard and get up early, which is not always fun.
When I graduated high school, I went to college at a very small school called North Central College outside of Chicago. I was a psychology/pre-med major, deciding to go pre-med my senior year, which was not a fun thing to do. My advisor at the time told me I would have to be okay with getting B’s in my classes, but I was not okay with it, so I worked hard not to get those grades. But I graduated with a psychology/pre-med degree, went to work in a hospital while I applied to medical schools, where I was put on waiting lists.
It didn’t take long for me to get tired of that. My husband and I had only been married about six months when I was talking to a friend who was a missileer and he was making twice as much money as I was at the hospital working overtime and night shifts. My friend was making twice as much money as me as a second lieutenant in the Air Force. So I went down to the recruiter, a female with a degree in 1996. They really wanted us, so it was pretty, I won’t say easy, but I was selected for Officer Training School and got a commission. My first assignment was as a space operator when space and missiles was still combined, where I flew GPS satellites. Then I taught space operations out of Vandenberg and that’s when I met Missileers, and that’s when I decided I wanted what they had. So, I volunteered to be a Missileer and I’ve been a Missileer ever since.
What would you say is your favorite assignment?
I actually have a lot of favorite assignments. I really enjoyed being a squadron commander at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha because I was geographically separated from my boss, so, I had to be alone and unafraid, taking care of the people who worked for me. It was a very small squadron where each person was hand selected not because they were a shiny penny, but because they were an amazing person and an awesome team player. It’s a very close-knit squadron. I really loved my time there and I’m still friends with everybody in that squadron.
I also really loved being at Minot, which people always laugh at. But there truly is something special about Minot. You become very close to the people you live and work with on base because the winters are hard and you are pretty far away from town. You become close with the people there, but you also have a community that supports you better than I’ve ever seen – it’s just an incredible community.
I also loved being at F.E. Warren, and so does my family. We love the town. We love the people. We love Cheyenne Frontier Days. We love the historic base. We love the mission. Coming back here to Cheyenne was like coming home for the family. So awesome.
On the other side of that coin, what was your most challenging assignment?
I would have to stay that my most challenging assignment was just a one-year job when I worked in the legislative liaison office at the Pentagon, but it wasn’t really the job that was challenging. I worked with amazing people and we got to take care of a lot of Airmen and their families, but my personal life was challenging. During that time, I lost my dad, and my husband and I lost a baby. That was really hard, but I was surrounded with people who cared about me and us and took care of us during that challenging time. So even though it was challenging, that’s probably where I learned the importance of my Air Force family and how I needed to learn to lean on them more than I had ever done in my life.
Can you tell me about your family?
I’m married and my husband has never been in the military but he’s incredibly supportive. When we first joined the Air Force, we didn’t know if we were going to fit in, but we quickly found that we fit really well because everybody comes from so many diverse backgrounds. We found that it doesn’t matter where you come from, you’ll fit in the Air Force.
We waited a little bit later to have children, so I still have school aged kids. I have a 14-year-old eighth grader in middle school, and a 16-year-old junior in high school. I’m lucky because they both still love the Air Force life. I thought when they became teenagers, they would want to stop moving, but they still love it. At one point, about a year ago, I talked about the possibility of retiring and one of them started crying because they did not want me to retire, which was reassuring. So, when it came time to move again, they were like, “Alright, where are we going?” and they were happy to move. I know I’m really lucky and I know that a lot of our airmen are single parents, or they have a spouse or partner whose job is just as important to them as the Airman’s job is. We have airmen with aging parents, or siblings who need to be cared for, or even airmen who are fur parents with fur babies. So I know that I’m lucky that I have a spouse who’s mostly a stay-at-home spouse who can help support me and everything I need to do, between TDYs and long hours.
We really do like to spend time as a family, watching movies, playing video games, board games, and go do activities, go out to eat, that kind of thing.
What’s your favorite movie?
I have a running list of favorite movies. I love Ready Player One because it has everything. It’s got sci fi. It’s got 80’s references. It’s got love. That’s one of my favorites.
The Ryan Reynolds one where he’s realizes he’s in a video game, Free Guy. That’s a good one. I like Independence Day and Terminator 2, as well.
How about a favorite book?
So my first favorites that I’ll mention here are not professional books. There’s an author named Fredrik Backman. He’s a Swedish author, so his books are all translated into English, and they’re all really funny, touching books. Some he’s written are hard to read, because they talk about painful subjects. He also wrote a book, A Man Called Ove, which they recently turned into a movie. I love reading his books.
I love reading sci fi. Orson Scott Card, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, all those writers.
I do read professional books, like Leaders Eat Last and there’s a really good book called XLR8 (accelerate), which talks about small teams getting innovative work done and how to make that happen. Also, I really like Start with Why.
I’m reading one now, that’s not really a leadership book, but it’s called The Fourth Turning, and it discusses how our society is almost cyclical, and how, through the generations we will move through crises, and then we’ll rebuild. We will have a generation of plenty and success, then one of struggle, and how we just keep going through these cycles over hundreds of years.
Back to the job …what are your goals for the next few years?
For 20th Air Force, I have four main priorities. These aren’t necessarily goals, but they lead into goals. My first one is people, and it’s all Airmen. Civilian Airmen, enlisted Airmen, Officer Airmen, and their amazing families. My first priority is to take care of them, because I believe if you take care of them, everything else happens. If I take care of Airmen and truly care about them, then they’ll feel supported, they’ll get support, they’ll have the resources they need to do their jobs and their families will be taken care of. And then, the mission will happen.
Leading into that, the mission is my second priority, because we need to maintain our strategic deterrence with the weapon systems that we have. So, it is on the backs of our Airmen that we do that, that we ensure these systems are credible, that they’re deterring our adversaries, and they’re assuring our allies.
My next priority is to modernize because we’re bringing on a new strategic deterrence system and we need to be able to do everything we can as 20th Air Force and all of our people, working with all of our partners, to make sure that we’re ready and helping in any way we can to modernize for the future.
My last priority is to engage with all of our mission partners to maintain our current systems and to modernize, and then to engage with our congressional members and our community leaders, and USSTRATCOM and big Air Force and Global Strike Command and just everybody who has an interest in what we do and can support and advocate for us. We need to be engaging with and telling our story, forming personal connections, making sure they know the Airmen they’re fighting for, and then making sure they know the missions that they’re supporting.
What do you want the Airmen of the 20th Air Force to know?
This is going to sound like a cliche, but I would want them to know that no matter what their role is in this mission, that what they’re doing is incredibly important. If they ever have a doubt that what they’re doing isn’t important, I’m ready and I will sit down with them and discuss it with them. I will cheer for them and remind them and show them examples of how what they’re doing is so important for our nation. Maybe our nation, the public, doesn’t see what they’re doing every day, but the rest of us know. Our adversaries know and our allies know. I’m ready to remind them if they need reminding.