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2 female first sergeants continue progression of women in military

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kevin Sommer Giron
  • 19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Since the early 1900s, women have fought for increased opportunities and have contributed to a more diverse and talented U.S. Air Force.

Women’s History Month celebrates the progress and contributions made by those women, who paved the way for new generations of females in the military.

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jill Tanner, 314th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron first sergeant, and U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Esther Keeney, 19th Medical Group first sergeant, share their experiences as women in the armed forces.

Q: At what age did you enlist and why?

Tanner: I was 19 years old. I joined because my dad told me to pull my head out of my back side and do something bigger than myself. I was an unruly kid so I wanted to get away from Ohio. I spent three years active duty, then went Reserve, but came back because I missed it. I liked the way the Air Force operated, the way people were taken care of, and how I changed for the better.

Keeney: I was 18 years old. I joined because my grandfather served as well. He was my big inspiration. I also wasn’t quite ready to go to college and needed something to get me out of being in trouble.

Q: What made you want to become a first sergeant?

Tanner: I became a first sergeant because I wanted to exemplify what I wanted to see in a first sergeant. I wanted to be that person that was advocating for Airmen, standing up for them and doing what’s right.

Keeney: My initial first sergeant is what made me want to be one. I heard stories of first sergeants being mean, cranky and angry, but I never had one fit that stereotype. My original first sergeant was there for me when I was in trouble. He picked me up, didn’t yell at me and guided me. That’s kind of where it started for me.

Q: What perspective do women bring to the first sergeant position?

Tanner: It shouldn’t be about being a woman or a man, we do our jobs to the best of our abilities regardless of differences in character and personality.

Keeney: We have very strong characteristics and morals that we are able to put into what we do. You often hear this stereotype that women are too emotional, and that they put too much emotion into the decisions they make. I try to combat that stereotype. I’m able to take a step back and look at the facts and the situation at hand before I make any recommendations or work with someone.

Q: How do women support the Combat Airlift mission?

Tanner: It’s more about what everyone contributes regardless of gender. I feel like if we focus on what women can bring specifically, then we are opening it up to bias again.

Keeney: We can do everything that men can do. We're a team and that's how things get done.

Q: Have you faced any obstacles in your career being a female in the military?

Tanner: At the beginning of my career, I felt like I had to prove something. I was in a relatively male dominated career field and some people thought I would use being a woman as an excuse not to do my job. I had to work extra hard to prove them wrong and not be that person. That was 20 years ago though, mentalities have changed since then.

Keeney: I have been very fortune enough to have not experienced any issues being a woman in the military.

Q: Do you think gender matters in a leadership position?

Tanner: Absolutely not, it’s based on how Airmen can perform their job, not who or what they are. If you’re a strong female and you do a great job as a first sergeant, that’s awesome, and vice versa. It’s the same for any other position.  

Keeney: Absolutely not, because I think every single person brings a different perspective and it doesn’t matter whether you’re a male or female. Your perspective can help everybody get to where they need to be.

"The men and women serving in the U.S. Air Force are representative of the diversity of our nation,” said (Ret) Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody. “We value this diversity and it's one of our greatest strengths; our Airmen come together to produce an incredible team that can accomplish any mission and overcome any challenge.”