Cynthia Cline is currently serving as a Captain in the United States Air Force along side her husband. They have a one year old and she deployed right after her daughters first birthday. She spent six months in Turkey and started her blog, A Faithful Step. Her story is one of overcoming physical fitness and other challenges and becoming stronger through all of it. She is a Force Support Officer and works in the Personnel career field.
You can also hear her story on the Women of the Military Podcast: here!
Why did you decided to join the military?
Long story short, my father was a veteran in the Air Force. I joined ROTC to learn more about the Air Force without realizing what ROTC really encompassed. My father was my hero growing up, so ROTC was a way for me to honor him. I joined for him but stayed in for the community.
What are the duties of your job overall?
Personnel is a vast career field. A simple way to think about what a Force Support Officer does is to think of the term “cradle to grave”. The Force Support Squadron essentially provides all the support to a base. We maintain the Child Development Centers (cradle) through Mortuary Services and Honor Guard (Grave). Some of my previous positions include:
Manpower: I studied certain functions or organizations to determine how many people it would take to do a job/man a unit. For example, a manpower technician would develop an equation, doing that would tell you how many people it would take to man the dining facility on base depending on how many meals needed to be produced. (I hope that made sense).
Personnel: I oversaw the passport office, dependent IDs/CACs, awards and decorations, assignments, retirements and separations, evaluations, and anything related to careers.
Services: I have had a little experience with overseeing a golf course, bowling alley, a few dining facilities, as well putting on events for the community.
Readiness: The most rewarding and challenging job was readiness. I was in charge of our mortuary technicians and honor guard team. During my first 9 weeks on the job I assisted with 9 Active Duty cases. Of these cases, one member was a deceased member from my squadron, another was someone I used to work with and had a great working relationship with. I was also given the honor of presenting an American flag to a grieving mother of a veteran who committed suicide.
Again, cradle to grave support.
Did you face any struggles while serving in the military?
In ROTC I struggled with fitness, I was never the fastest or strongest. I had to work extremely hard to get above a 90.
Do you still face challenges with meeting the Physical Fitness Test requirements?
Physical Fitness doesn’t come easy to me. I have to train all year, 3x’s a week in order to get an excellent (above a 90 on the test). I am still the slowest person on the track and I still have major test anxiety weeks before the test is due.
Postpartum, the challenges were very different. During my pregnancy I couldn’t run due to extreme pelvic pain, so I had to start as if I had never worked out in my life. Thankfully, the Air Force now allows you to test the month your baby turns 1-years-old. Previously, you would have to test about 6 months postpartum and I am not sure I would have passed.
In my second unit I had to work with an extremely toxic commander who drove 3 of my members to enroll in Mental Health.
What about the commander made the environment so difficult?
This commander had no empathy, did not care about his individuals, and expected everyone to work at all hours of the day regardless of how it affected them personally. He micromanaged every single thing that was done, talked down to people, and expected everyone to work long hours and weekends.
A specific example – I had a member come back from deployment and she was on her 2 weeks of rest and recuperation. She was a single mom of two little girls. Due to a mortuary case, he made me call her in to work and she was never given that time off. We had other people who could have helped with the case, but instead he wanted this specific woman. There was a time where I picked up her daughters and watched them so that she could go in to work. At no point did the commander ever thank her for working hard. On multiple occasions he also threw us under the bus for the sake of his own career.
It is great you were able to support your troops by getting them connected with mental health resources. Did you have to overcome a negative mental health stigma?
Surprisingly no. Everyone realized it was necessary. One of my members needed help because work had created problems with their marriage. Another was struggling with having to inspect the body of one of her coworkers. Thankfully, they all realized this was essential. I am a huge proponent for mental health (I have my masters in Human Services Counseling: Military Resilience).
Were the people who went to mental health able to get the help they needed?
Thankfully yes, but I don’t think you ever really get over some of the difficulties this commander put us through and the challenges of working mortuary.
If you faced any difficulties did any of your struggles directly relate to the fact you are a female?
There were times where I had to assert my authority as an officer over male SNCO’s and civilians who did not like working for a young woman. To date – my hardest struggle has been working with other women both higher and lower ranking. For example, I tried to connect with some of my enlisted ladies and somehow got dragged into some “he said, she said” drama. As for higher ranking female officers, I have found that I need to work harder to “impress” them than their male counterparts.
Most recently, being a mom and having to leave my daughter behind has significantly impacted me. Not saying my husband did not have it hard leaving our daughter behind for his deployment, but the bond between a mother and child are different.
During the time of this interview you are current deployed to Turkey, what is the hardest part of being a mom while serving overseas?
The hardest part changes on every day. Some days, the hardest part is seeing her little face on the phone playing with her toys and wishing I could play with her. Or having to watch my husband do most of the parenting and not have a say (Who am I to judge my husband for his dinner choices when I’m not there to help him).
Other days, the hardest part is knowing other women are interacting with her. My friends who get to have her over for playdates. Genuinely helping our family out, yet I get jealous of their interaction.
Most times, the hardest part is seeing a different baby on that screen. One with more teeth and more hair who talks a lot more and runs all over the house. To have missed those little moments that I will never get back.
How do you stay connected with your child while being deployed?
Thankfully communication works really well. I purchased a data plan that gives me 50 GB a month. I can video chat during bath times and the hubby sends me a few photos. I currently have a book that I am going to record myself reading to her and send it to her soon.
Want to hear more stories check out the Women of the Military landing page.