Michelle (GI) is passionate about helping women veterans and is a powerful force of change. She shares about her experience of being a black woman in the military. She was the first black woman to reach the rank of Colonel (O6) in her career field of Services. She and I met when I attended the Diversity and Inclusion Conferences by Women Veteran Interactive in 2019. We have stayed connected ever since and I’m excited to have her on the podcast this week.
GI headed off to Tuskegee University. Her parents had attended there and her dad said if she got in, she needed to go there too. So she did. At the time, every student had to participate in either a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program or Physical Education (PE). So, she decided to do ROTC. She didn’t want to join the Army because she had seen what her dad had done. But the Air Force ROTC program looked like fun. She joined and after one semester decided she wanted to join the military and got a 3.5 year scholarship.
Being excluded because of her skin color
Her dad was an officer and most of his career he was the only black officer on the base. She faced discrimination. She still remembers when they arrived in Germany and her parents told her to go outside and play with the other kids. Shortly after going outside a mom welcomed all the kids inside for cookies and milk. When she got to the door she was told she had to go home for cookie and milk. She wasn’t welcome. She was an outsider. She didn’t fit in with the other black children because her dad was an officer. And she didn’t fit in with the white children because she was black. It is one of the reasons she is so passionate about including everyone today.
Getting a new career before her career begins
She was supposed to go into the Missiles career field. But after attending a summer program where she spent three hours down in a missile silo she was ready to quit. She knew it was not the right job for her. She came back and told her mentor Col Floyd I need to do something else. He was able to find her a new career field and she began her career in the Air Force working in the Services career field.
Women Veterans have overcome challenges
GI talked about how the military has changed for women. When she joined it was common to be disrespectful toward woman and you had to ensure men didn’t see you in a negative way. Crying wasn’t something that was accepted. You were told to keep it to yourself. Inappropriate comments were not only common, but the accepted norm. So many great changes have happened for women. Showing that women can be in the military and still be moms, involved in their community and so much more. She highlighted Shonda Rhimes book First Only Different: Weird and Interesting Secrets of Shonda Rhimes. How people who are the first have to break down barriers to make it better for the next generation.
The value and importance of constructive criticism
We also talked about how the military can give members and opportunity to improve. Feedback that shares both positive and negative aspects of your character can be hard to hear. But if you look at them and consider the source you can use that feedback to grow. And the more times you get the feedback the easier it is to accept it and grow. Learning not to be offended and to be open is so important. It also important to remember that you don’t have to take all the advice you hear.
Being a mom in the military
While pregnant at a conference she connected with another pregnant servicewoman. She gave her advice on how to be a mom since it was her second baby. That advice helped her get through those early years. She also brought her kids with her. When she traveled TDY she was able to bring her kids until they started elementary school. She also had support from her husband. They worked hard, but she wanted to prove you could be a mom and serve in the military. And she did.