JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
“Every month is women’s history month, because women’s history is American history.” That’s how Col. Joyce Storm, commander of the 37th Training Group, responded when asked what womanhood meant to her. It’s a difficult question, and, if you’re like the six women we interviewed from the 37th TRG, you may not have defined it before.
When Andrea Nowlin, an instructional systems developer with the 37th Training Support Squadron, tried to think of an answer, she sat staring at a blank page for two days. But then it hit her — womanhood means balancing what she calls the Five Fs: faith, family, finances, friends and fitness.
“You could say these are just things of life,” Nowlin said. “But, being that I am a woman, they are equally important to me.”
Tech. Sgt. Jakia Lionheart, an Air Crew Fundamentals instructor with the 344th Training Squadron, agreed, saying that womanhood was her whole perspective of the world because “it’s all I have.”
Womanhood is difficult to define because every woman is unique, and because you can’t separate womanhood from daily life — they’re intrinsically intertwined. But all six women agreed that, at the end of the day, womanhood boils down to two things: internal growth and external encouragement.
Staff Sgt. Nicole Meyer, an instructor for canine handlers with the 341st Training Squadron, summarized it well: “Womanhood has two definitions for me. Individually, it’s figuring out yourself emotionally, mentally and physically. But there’s also the group aspect of all women empowering and embracing each other.”
Staff Sgt. Agnes Berry, an aerospace physiology technician and instructor with the 344th TRS, stressed the importance of taking care of yourself and the people around you.
“At the end of the day, we’re just human beings wearing this uniform,” Berry said. “And if we don’t take care of that person inside the uniform, then the mission of the military is not going to get complete.”
To Berry, womanhood is a cycle that hinges on empowering the people around you. She says the cycle begins with self-discovery, figuring out your personality, passions and attributes, and then moves into an understanding of how you fit into your environment. After you figure out who you are and how you relate to the world, Berry says you enter a stage of resiliency.
“In that phase, you inspire others,” Berry said. “People see those setbacks and mistakes, and how you handle everything, and it inspires others to ride along and overcome those challenges with you.” She says the last phase of the cycle is giving back and offering your experience and advice to the people around you.
However, there is no set timeline. Tech. Sgt. Christina Cordova, a military training leader with the 343rd Training Squadron, said “Something clicks, and you just become who you are. It could be early in life or later on, but you become a better person through the process.”
For Cordova, the Air Force has shaped her understandings of self and the world because, as she put it, it’s all she’s ever known. “Whether I’m at a desk or in a combat zone, the Air Force has made me the strongest person — the strongest woman — I think I ever could have been,” she said. Cordova enlisted when she was 17 years old, and is heading into her 19th year of service.
Storm also joined young. She began her military career when she was 18 but didn’t deploy until a few years later when the Air Force sent her to Saudi Arabia as the chief of transportation. When asked about the experience, Storm leaned forward and laughed. “Now, the one thing women can’t do in Saudi Arabia is drive. And trust me, the irony was not lost on anyone.” Her job in Saudi Arabia was to negotiate contracts, but the locals didn’t want to deal with a woman, so she had to bring a lower-ranking male with her as a go-between.
Later, Storm deployed to Afghanistan to oversee the entire logistics chain, negotiating energy and fuel contracts, and ensuring that Airmen without drop zones still received supplies. She held a place of authority within the U.S. Air Force, but local Afghan men again wouldn’t talk with her directly.
“As an American woman, I was initially taken aback,” Storm said. “But then I realized how fortunate I was to be placed in these trusted positions by the American military in the country of Afghanistan.
“I could have been offended by it, but I actually realized how lucky I was, and how strong I was because I dealt with it like a duck in water,” Storm said.
All six women agreed that the Air Force provides ample opportunities to step outside of your comfort zone and grow. According to Meyer, instilling confidence in yourself in the midst of new situations makes all the difference, so she encourages other women to take every opportunity the Air Force offers and learn as much as possible.
“The more you know about your job, the more confident you’ll be,” Meyer said.
“Be the expert in whatever field you’re in,” Storm said. “Be the hardest working person in the room and be humble. Don’t expect anything, but work for everything. Your work will speak for itself and gender won’t matter.”
So, what does womanhood mean to you?
Check out this video! According to military instructors in the 37th Training Group, womanhood is about growing into your identity and empowering those around you through understanding. The 37th TRG at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, facilitates tech training for 23 career fields. (U.S. Air Force video by Miriam Thurber)