Vanessa is a Weapons System Officer in the Air Force Reserves. She left active duty when her daughter was born as a dual military, dual service made being stationed together a challenge. In this interview, she talked about the importance of finding your voice and how she helped and helps others find their voice today.
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Vanessa served in the US Air Force on active duty for 10 years as a Weapons System Officer/Electronic Warfare Officer in the F-15E Strike Eagle. She completed back to back deployments supporting Operation Enduring Freedom and flew over 100 combat missions. She also flew with the Navy in the EA-6B Prowler. Currently, she is serving in the Air Force Reserves and owns her own fitness and health coaching business. She is also a motivational speaker with a group called Athena’s Voice. She works part-time at the local CrossFit gym is a mom of two (six and eight) and a military spouse.
Weapons System Officer
Vanessa started looking into the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) so that she could go to college farther away from her hometown. She received a four-year scholarship with a major in Meteorology. But she considered Combat Weather, but many of the roles within the career field were off-limits to women so that discouraged her from applying. She thought it would be fun to fly in jets, but with bad vision, she knew to become a pilot wasn’t an option. So, she took a strike navigator spot.
As well as she did in ROTC, flight school did not come naturally and she had to work really hard to graduate. Classes didn’t click the way she hoped and she also felt a lot of pressure being one of very few females to perform well. Then she had an unexplained medical issue. Where pressure would build up randomly in her head during take-off and make it hard to perform her duties. She powered through the pain and with different aircraft had less issues and it began happening it less and she was always able to perform her duties when it did.
Then she was able to get through flight school and training and ended up in the 335th Fighter Squadron. She was one of two females but had a great tribe of people to support her through. When she deployed, she ended up being the only female aircrew on that deployment. Her first deployment was in 2008. There was a lot of training after flight school to prepare for the deployment and as tactics and strategies changed the training would continue to change and expand. She said if you are done with school after graduating and don’t want to continue learning then being a Weapon System Officer isn’t for you.
Deploying to Afghanistan
She arrived in Afghanistan in January. It was cold and there wasn’t a lot of fighting going on, but as the weather got warmer so did the action on the ground and their role in the sky. Some missions there was nothing significant to report and others had a lot more going on. She had so many great stories from her experience and some sobering moments.
One of the challenges she faced was being assaulted by an instructor. She didn’t report it for fear of rumors and feeling like it would be an added pressure. So she stuffed it down deep inside of her and kept pressing forward. She made it to graduation and graduated #3 of 13 and got her top pick for her aircraft. They were at the bar celebrating. She was sober because she had her guard up from when she was assaulted and had wanted to be the watcher to protect herself and others. One of the instructors flipped her zipper on her flight suit near her chest and she kept a calm face, but inside she was angry. Upset that he thought it was okay to touch her, but once again she didn’t say anything.
But she made a promise that she wouldn’t be silent the next time. This also led her to start to speak up for women when things were said about them when they were not there. When a new woman came to the squadron there would always be rumors. People knew that they were coming and when. So, she would speak up for the woman and be her voice before she even arrived. When she had a job interviewing cadet at the Academy, she would always tell young women after the interview was over that they don’t have to do things because someone outranks you, or intimidates you. “You can always say no.”
Mil to Mil Life
She met her husband during flight school. He was in the Navy and they dated for a few years before getting married. It was challenging to be stationed at different bases, but the did actually have their deployments overlap in Afghanistan. As an added bonus they got to run missions together and spend time together. When she had children and was given a new assignment away from her husband she decided to switch from active duty to Reserves. This allowed her to continue to serve in the military while also having the flexibility to take care of her children and support her husband.
Connect with Vanessa:
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