Little Rock Air Force Base's collection of feature articles
By Airman 1st Class Kevin Sommer Giron, 19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published March 27, 2017
U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jill Tanner, 314th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron first sergeant, enlisted at 19 years old and has served 20 years in the U.S. Air Force. As a first sergeant, Tanner is the primary liaison between the commander and all matters concerning the enlisted corps of her unit. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kevin Sommer Giron)
U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Esther Keeney, 19th Medical Group first sergeant, enlisted at 18 years old and has served 17 years in the U.S. Air Force. One of her goals was to achieve the first sergeant position and supports her Airmen by listening to them and finding out what motivates them. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kevin Sommer Giron)
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
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.
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
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
Q: Do you think
gender matters in a leadership position?
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.
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.
Little Rock Public Affairs