An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

The 459th Command Chief shares Women's History Month reflection

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Sharese Junious
  • 459th Air Refueling Wing

Women’s History Month is an opportunity to remember, recognize, and celebrate the contributions and accomplishments women have made in society. In the United States specifically, women have fought over the years for many rights, including having a seat at the table to have our voices heard for grievances and inclusion in important decisions, and receiving fair compensation at work. The military has not been immune to how women were viewed and treated in society, but over the years the military has made significant strides in ensuring women are treated fairly and with dignity.

I entered the Air Force in 1997, in what was then called the Security Police career field as a Law Enforcement Specialist. By that time, women had only been fully integrated into the career field for a little over 12 years. Most people don’t know that the initial 100 women in 1976 who were allowed to be trained in the Security Police Security Specialist program were the first women in the history of the US military allowed to serve in any combat role. That lasted for a short time and was shut down until women were finally allowed full integration in January 1985.

When Airman Basic Junious joined the Air Force, of approximately 60 Airmen in my technical school class, only about seven of us were women. During my first three duty assignments, there were four or less women on each of the flights I was assigned for duty. When I retrained to become a Military Working Dog (MWD) Handler, I found myself as one of two female handlers in my DoD MWD Handler’s Course. During the first three years of my assignment to the MWD Kennels at JB Andrews, I was the only female MWD Handler.

At the time, building a reputation as a Defender who could carry her own weight and get the job done was the most important thing to me. I wanted to show the male Defenders that I was just as good as any of them in policing and defending the base, and I wanted to be an example to other female Defenders who were junior to me. I believed I needed to prove myself every day. I was fortunate to have many mentors throughout my career to help me be the best Defender and Airman I could be. I've learned the following lessons over the years:

1. Regardless of if you are male or female, strive to be the best you can at your craft. We are a profession of arms, and our country expects us to be the very best to ensure our military remains a deterrence to prevent conflict, but ready to answer the call when deterrence fails. If you don’t understand the role your functional area plays in the big picture, I challenge you to conduct your own research and ask questions to help you understand. I believe if you understand the 'why,' you will understand what’s at stake if you fail to do your part. Individually, we must do our part for the team to succeed.

2. In male dominant career fields, men should absolutely mentor women. My first supervisor in the Air Force was male. He took me under his wing and ensured I had all the tools I needed to be a successful Defender. He made sure I could do my job and do it well. We spent countless hours on firearms simulators and working through scenarios to ensure I was confident in my abilities and proficient at my job. The foundation he built carried me through my career as a Defender. I also had other male mentors along the way. It was a male mentor who assisted me with achieving my goal of becoming a MWD Handler. The book Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women, written by W. Brad Johnson and David Smith, explains why it is important for men to mentor women and gives insight into how men can mentor women deliberately and effectively.

3. Being a female in a predominantly male career field requires a special level of mental toughness, perseverance, and fortitude. I want to make it clear, I was never treated unfairly in Security Forces, or anywhere in the Air Force. However, there are no separate male or female standards in Security Forces, and I don’t believe there should be any separate or different standards. I carried the same rucksack, Personal Protective Equipment, and weapons as my fellow male Defenders. I had to be able to lift and carry my assigned Military Working Dog, all 60 pounds of him. I never used being a female as an excuse to get out of performing a task or any duty. I worked hard to show I was capable of completing any task, regardless of how difficult it may have been, and I was always willing to sit in the mud alongside any of my fellow Defenders.

My experiences have shaped me into the Airman, leader, and person I am today. I have absolutely enjoyed the journey of my Air Force career and would not change anything. It is my journey and the lessons I’ve learned along the way that have prepared me for my current position as the Command Chief to some of the most amazing and talented Airmen in the Air Force, the Liberators of the 459th Air Refueling Wing. Now that I have my seat at the table, my priority is to use my influence to remove barriers, create opportunities to further develop our Airmen, and leave the wing better than it was the day I arrived.