Maxwell-Gunter women move history forward

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- In celebrating March's national Women's History Month, the Air Force is recognizing significant strides taken by women as pivotal to the Air Force story. Women, both past and present, are being recognized for their accomplishments throughout military history.

Four women at Maxwell-Gunter are creating history of their own by currently serving in leadership positions that in the past were not predominantly held by women.

They are Brig. Gen. A. H. Teresa Djuric, commander of the Jeanne M. Holm Center for Officer Accessions and Citizen Development; Chap. (Lt. Col.) Terese A. Erickson, wing chaplain for the 42nd Air Base Wing; Maj. Theresa E. Weems, KC-10 pilot; and Chief Master Sgt. Shelia S. Knox, vice commandant of the Senior Non-Commissioned Officer Academy.

"These great Americans are devoted to their people and their organizations at Maxwell and Gunter," said Lt. Gen. Allen G. Peck, Air University commander. "They have demonstrated the ultimate service before self attitude, whereby their model leadership has influenced and fostered the growth of thousands of Airmen through their superb balance of professionalism, leadership and warrior ethos."

Training for success

General Djuric credits Air Force professional training and education for preparing her for every level of command and leadership. She has commanded at the squadron, group, and wing levels.

"Every professional military education and development course I've taken since OTS from Squadron Officer School to Group and Wing commander courses to Joint Forces Staff College have built upon that foundation," the general explained. "At each level of command the mission, people, and operating budget changes, but the basic challenges and opportunities remain the same."

General Djuric said gaining "operational expertise" has been important in her career. She said knowing how and when to apply your operational expertise enables improvement in each mission. She recommends that for each new mission, a servicemember should gain operational expertise by reading and knowing the unique set of Air Force instructions, checklists, inspection reports, limiting factors and capabilities of weapons systems or facilities that apply. They also should learn from instructors and evaluators. They are the real mission experts according to the general.

"Whether I was commanding space operators who were controlling missile warning or GPS satellites on orbit or a flight commander at Squadron Officer School or the Holm Center commander, I began with studying the mission, reading applicable AFIs and reports, and talking to senior instructors to gain expertise," she said.

General Djuric said for 26 years in the Air Force, she has benefited from selfless family support. She stresses leading by example and gives credit for her success to subordinate commanders, civilians, officers and non-commissioned officers.

Keeping the faith

Chaplain Erickson said she joined the Chaplain Corps with an earnest desire to serve God, church and military personnel of all faiths.

She recently returned from Joint Base Balad, Iraq, where she oversaw the Army's chapel program including 20 worship services.

"The military prepares officers well through a progressive scale of job experiences," Chaplain Erickson said. "Thoughtful research and planning is critical."

She said she believes always being prepared with preplanning paves the way for success.

"Integrity and performing our best at each level, whether we're male or female, is essential for success at the next level of employment."

She tells of encountering challenges before becoming the first woman chaplain to serve as a wing chaplain in Pacific Air Forces, serving as chief of the USAF Chaplain Service Resource Board, and attending two military schools.

For Chaplain Erickson, her measurement of success is more personal. She remembers helping an Airman rise above the debilitating fears she suffered from a severely abusive childhood to become an USAF basic training graduate.

Chaplain Erickson was a part of an ACSC team that wrote a book on conflict termination that received the Strategic Air Command Research Excellence Award. She also became PACAF's Field Grade Chaplain of the Year for her work as wing chaplain at Kunsan Air Base, Korea.

Following in their footsteps

Major Weems is a 36-year-old KC-10 pilot with 10 years of flying under her belt. Right now she is in the midst of a "fly-by" as a student at ACSC, set to graduate in June.

Her family's Air Force lineage extends from her grandfather who served as a pilot in the Army Air Corps in World War II and stayed in the Air Force through the wars in Korea and Vietnam. An interesting Maxwell fact is that her grandfather, Lt. Col. Hubert V. "Andy" Frame, has flown the actual static B-52 near Chennault Circle on one of his missions in Vietnam.

Major Weems was recently selected for the Embassy Immersion Program. After graduating ACSC, she will spend five weeks at the U.S. Embassy in Santiago, Chili

"I'll be shadowing [embassy officials], helping them do their job, to get a perspective on how the State Department works, what their goals are, what their mission is, so hopefully in the future the military can interact better with the other governmental agencies, to get a better understanding of the other agencies we'll have to work with," Major Weems said.

Following the assignment in Chili, Major Weems will be working for Air Force International Affairs at the Pentagon.

"One of my electives here is the Political Affairs Specialist program, so I was in the loop already and they pulled me up," the major added. "I'll be the country director for Italy, working in a cubicle in D.C. focusing in on our issues, what are we doing in the USAF side of things in Italy, keeping track of the programs we have going on and their current events to see how they affect us."

Moving from chef to chief

Chief Knox enlisted 24 years ago in the Air Force as a flight kitchen cook. She said her career path has always placed her in a caretaking role, one she relishes as a true "people-person."

Chief Knox said he always aims to ignite a belief in what is possible, raise the level of expectation for the future, recognize each Airman's potential, and empower them to take a step ahead of the crowd and into a lifetime of success.

"I can't say I was intimidated because a lot of those opportunities came without much warning. I always did every job to the best of my ability, and I was always willing to raise my hand to try something different. So when it hit, you just do what you got to do," she said.

Her family offers her high praise. She said that when her family says, "Mom, you're doing a great job balancing being a mom, a wife, and a chief," then she knows she is on the right track.

A perceived gender gap is not an issue for Chief Knox. She says, "We women may have different ways of getting to the same result, but at the end of the day the mission has been moved forward."