By Airman 1st Class Matthew Gilmore, 374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published March 09, 2018
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan --
In 1987 the United States Congress officially designated March as Women’s History Month, a time to honor the extraordinary achievements of women.
To celebrate those achievements and help promote the future achievements of Team Yokota’s female Airmen, a WHM panel was held at Yokota Air Base, Japan, March 8, 2018.
The panel, composed of both commissioned and noncommissioned senior leaders from Yokota, Camp Zama, Japan, and Chitose Air Base, Japan, discussed battling discrimination in the workplace, motivation, mentorship, and the balancing of work and family in the Armed Forces.
“When I came into the U.S. Army I was 100 lbs.,” said Sgt. Maj. Barbara O’Hara, U.S. Army Japan assistant inspector general stationed at Camp Zama. “Not only because of my gender but because of my size, I was constantly being challenged by my male counterparts. I found myself pushing myself to run faster, to do more pushups and sit-ups, everything to be better than them.
“The thing is, the more and more I did to prove them wrong about me, the unhappier with myself I became. I learned early on that I couldn’t focus on things to please others. I had to make my own goals based on the standard and exceed that standard for myself.”
While being exposed to the challenges early on of a more male dominated profession, O’Hara found all the motivation she needed in those that doubted her.
“My original dream was to make Master Sgt.,” said O’Hara. “I had surpassed that and was happy with my success, but in 2010 I had a sergeant major actually tell me to be happy with where I was. The fact that only 1% are promoted to sergeant major, add in the fact that I was female, and that man laughed at me.
“That right there was my motivation to drive even harder. When he laughed at me, he sealed my fate of being promoted to sergeant major.”
As with O’Hara’s motivation, often times mentorship can come as result of another individuals negative actions.
“A lot of my early mentorship was more of how not to act,” said Col. Ingrid Ford, 374th Medical Group commander. “I would see how my higher ups were going out of their way to be overly intimidating and upon seeing that, I knew I didn’t want to be that kind of leader. It was on me to choose the right people to emulate.
“Seeing the negative impact that way of leading had on people made me doubt if I wanted to be a part of this. I was eventually lucky enough to see someone I respected and wanted to be like achieve success without fitting that previous intimidating mold. It cemented that I too could be successful while being the type of leader I wanted to be.”
While some members of the panel didn’t have the best mentorship early on in their careers, some had pleasant experiences that helped them grow as people.
“I was lucky enough to have mentors that pushed me out of my comfort zone,” said Chief Master Sgt. Kiley Scholl, 374th Mission Support Group superintendent. “They pushed me to do things that I wouldn’t normally do. I knew that I wanted to be a chief when I first joined the Air Force and that mentorship helped me along the road to where I am.”
The Koku Jietai (Japan Air Self-Defense Force), despite having only about 8% of their force female, also rely on their mentors to pass on their knowledge and inspiration to the next generation of leaders.
“When I first joined, I did not really aim to become a warrant officer,” said Chief Master Sgt. Yuko Fujita, Koku Jietai chief of airfield manager and dispatcher of group headquarters of Chitose Air Base. “My mentor told me to become a pioneer. After they said that, I looked around at my subordinates and my fellow Airmen and decided that I wanted to be the best leader I could be for them, that led to me being where I am today.”
For every long and successful military career comes the balancing of the work that got them there and the family at home.
“I would get my children’s school calendar the day it was put out and would plan my leave around those dates,” said O’Hara. “My kids are my world and I was not going to let the Army dictate how I was going to parent. The challenge of balancing family and parenting with service is always going to be there, it is up to you to be creative and work around it.”
For some, the solution was bringing work and family together for the greater good.
“When I had to do volunteer activities I would bring my kids with me,” said Scholl. “I would balance things by taking them with me so we could volunteer and spend time together. Depending on the volunteer opportunity, I was able to also teach them the good that can come from giving back.”
Whether it was to talk about motivation, family or discrimination, the panel came together to share their stories and ultimately create discussion.
“As a senior NCO I wanted to show the audience who I am as a person and as a leader,” said Fujita. “By sharing my flaws and my stories I hoped to relate to even just one person in the audience. I wanted to create that bond and instill hope for someone that things will get better.
“Seeing all the diversity in the audience, all of the opinions that were shared, I hope one of those opinions leads to change. I hope that next year the Koku Jietai can bring more of our Airmen to be in the audience and experience this sharing of ideas. Once we have a goal it is easier to step forward, I hope together we can share a goal to make things better for not only women, but everyone.”