More than 130 teenage girls from middle and high schools around the Lowcountry attended the 10th Annual Joint Base Charleston Women in Aviation Career Day, March 21.
The goal of the Career Day is for young ladies “to learn and to be inspired, and to check out some the options out there for you as careers for different jobs in the future” said Col. Jeanine McAnaney, 315th Airlift Wing vice commander.
The event, one of the 315th AW’s most popular community engagement programs, features leading and pioneering women in their respective aviation related careers as guest speakers. This year’s speaker was no exception. The Air Force Reserve’s highest ranking enlisted Airman, Command Chief Master Sgt. Ericka Kelly captivated everyone by telling her life story.
Kelly explained to the girls how she not only holds the highest enlisted rank attainable in the Air Force, but in her civilian profession she’s a special agent with the Department of Homeland Security – “That’s law enforcement, a traditionally male dominated career, and also a pretty hard environment to get into,” the Command Chief said.
“I’m also a single mom, and I have two cool jobs,” Kelly added.
Kelly also told the girls how she came from a poor family in Guatemala, before she eventually emigrated to the United States.
Besides the guest speaker, a C-17 tour, career tables and demonstrations, the local WIA program holds an annual essay contest for girls attending the event. The girls were asked to write about the women who most inspired them.
This year’s winners were:
1st Place ($250):
Destiny Graham - Fort Dorchester High School, North Charleston, S.C.
Graham’s essay: Col. Merryl Tengesdal, the first African American Woman Air Force U-2 pilot
2nd Place ($200):
Carrie Nelson - Wando High School, Mount Pleasant, S.C.
Nelson’s essay: Shawna Rochelle Kimbrell, the first woman to directly serve in the U.S. Air Force
3rd Place ($150):
Libby Daniel - Wando High School, Mount Pleasant, S.C.
Daniel’s essay: Master Sgt. Danielle McAdams, Daniel’s 9th grade Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps instructor.
“Right now the possibilities are very open. I do know that I want to go into the medical field – whether that’s being a doctor or being a technician – I really haven’t narrowed down. But I’m very open to whatever way life throws at me,” said Graham when asked if the career day is helping the high school senior decide what path to take. “It lets me know that my dreams are within my reach and the women here did it and I can also do it.”
“I definitely appreciate all the women who put this together, not just this state, but also all around the country,” Graham added.
A few of the Joint Base Charleston WIA Career Day’s “founding mothers” shared their thoughts on how the event came to fruition.
Connie Danbury Lucas, a 315th Operations Support Squadron member at the time, said that her attendance at the Annual WIA conference in Orlando, Fla in 2006 and 2007. “I started thinking about what we could do to reach out to young women in our community.”
“The vision behind our first event is the same as it is today – to open the gates to Joint Base Charleston and give local middle and high school girls career options they may not have thought was a possibility,” said Senior Master Sgt. Lisa Cardinal, 315th Aerospace Medical Squadron.
“To enlighten young women of all the possible careers related to aviation available to them and not just through the military,” said Lt. Col. Mary Jeffrey, formerly of the 315th Operations Group.
Cynthia Stegall of the 701st Airlift Squadron said her vision for the career day was, “to better expose young women to what the Air Force Reserve has to offer as a career for their future.”
“I personally know several girls who were in their senior year in high school and chose the Air Force as a career path after they graduated – all from attending our career day!” Stegall added.
“I was originally a volunteer and saw it as an opportunity to show the young ladies that you can be in the military and still wear your nails and look like a woman,” said Master Sgt. Valerie Langford, former 315th Force Support Squadron member.
But is the program worth it? If you ask any of the organizers you get a resounding “absolutely,” according to Master Sgt. Barbara Sosebee, 315th FSS.
And the girls seem to agree.
“At first I expected it would be just a fun field trip. I was definitely surprised to find that not the case. I found there were so many opportunities for women that I could not imagine. It was inspiring to me to actually see the different careers that I could consider for my future. Women have come so far through the years. I only thought there were airline stewardesses but found out I could be a pilot or a loadmaster or a medical technician,” said Amelia Stegall of attending the inaugural Joint Base Charleston Women in Aviation event as a student in 2007
“The interaction that I had at WIA Career Day with so many strong women allowed me to see all of the different career options I could have when I grew up. While I did at first consider it to be like a field trip, upon my arrival I realized the passion that all of the women had for allowing young girls to see the wide array of career opportunities the aviation field had to offer, which was very inspiring,” said Grace Rieflin, another student who attended the first event in 2007.
“It was such an eye-opening experience that, at the time, really got me thinking about a potential career in not only aviation, but also other fields which I may have previously thought to be exclusively male-populated. Although I have not taken a particular interest in aviation, WIA CD showed me that strong women are a force to be reckoned with in all fields,” Rieflin added.
Some interesting statistics worth mentioning from the Federal Aviation Administration show that as of December 2015, women only make up 6.66 percent of pilots in the United States, up only 5.6 percent from 2000. Of the non-pilot aviation related jobs, 25.16 percent are women – up from a mere 3.19 percent in 2000.