SER­VICE­WOMEN WALK TIGHTROPE

They of­ten find Air Force pits work against fam­i­lies

San Antonio Express-News (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Sig Chris­ten­son STAFF WRITER

Maj. Bri Peter­son and her hus­band, Grant, awaken be­fore dawn on work­days to care for their young son be­fore they head off in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions from their New Braun­fels home.

Bri, a T-1 in­struc­tor pi­lot, com­mutes to Joint Base San An­to­nio-Ran­dolph, where she is the 12th Train­ing Squadron’s staff di­rec­tor. Grant drives to a cam­era ex­change store on San Pe­dro Av­enue in San An­to­nio. Bri brings their tod­dler, 18-month-old Gavin, to an on-base day care cen­ter.

Bri’s ca­reer is on the rise, while Grant’s is in a hold­ing pat­tern.

When Bri gets or­ders to move to a new base, Grant loses his job. He once was cut loose from a store in Mis­sis­sippi be­cause he took three weeks off for their hon­ey­moon. Now she sees him about four hours a day dur­ing the week — and her son less than that.

They get one day a week to­gether — Sunday.

Their rou­tine re­flects the type of stress­ful lifestyle that is caus­ing an ex­o­dus of women from the Air Force, which is try­ing a range of so­lu­tions to re­duce the at­tri­tion. A Rand Corp. study found women leave the ser­vice ear­lier than men be­cause of con­flicts that tear at their fam­i­lies and per­sonal lives.

The loss of skill and ex­pe­ri­ence is a con­cern for the Air Force, where one in ev­ery five air­men is fe­male.

The study found a sig­nif­i­cant drop-off in the num­ber of women serv­ing as the years pass. Twenty per­cent of sec­ond lieu­tenants are women, but many leave the ser­vice be­fore they can ad­vance up the lad­der, re-

duc­ing their ranks to only around 14 per­cent of the lieu­tenant colonels and colonels. About half of that num­ber will make one-star gen­eral, mean­ing that nine in ev­ery 10 gen­eral of­fi­cers will be men.

Fur­ther­more, half of all male of­fi­cers serv­ing in non­fly­ing jobs re­main in the Air Force through 10 years, while 37 per­cent of women do. For fly­in­grated jobs, 63 per­cent of maler­ated of­fi­cers re­main in the Air Force af­ter 13 years, while 39 per­cent of women in that field still are in uni­form.

Vet­eran pi­lots, who can’t leave the ser­vice un­til com­plet­ing a decade­long ser­vice com­mit­ment, are ex­it­ing in droves, leav­ing the Air Force with a short­age of 2,000 pi­lots. Many head for lu­cra­tive jobs as com­mer­cial air­line pi­lots.

Re­search ex­am­in­ing gen­der dif­fer­ences in re­ten­tion has put a spot­light on is­sues im­por­tant to women — mar­i­tal and fam­ily sta­tus, work-fam­ily bal­ance and fre­quency of de­ploy­ments, and per­ma­nent change of sta­tion, called PCS, that force civil­ian spouses to scram­ble for a new job. Fre­quently, dualmil­i­tary couples end up work­ing at dif­fer­ent bases hun­dreds or thou­sands of miles apart.

Changes have been made. The Air Force ex­tended ma­ter­nity leave from six to 12 paid weeks two years ago as part of a sweep­ing Pen­tagon di­rec­tive. Un­der the new pol­icy, it also de­ferred fit­ness tests and de­ploy­ments for a year af­ter giv­ing birth. Those tests had been re­quired six months af­ter de­liv­ery.

Rand made a host of rec­om­men­da­tions, one of which would re­duce the fre­quency of PCS or­ders. Oth­ers call for con­sid­er­ing a cou­ple's parental sta­tus in de­ploy­ment de­ci­sions, ex­pand­ing child care and pro­vid­ing greater ca­reer flex­i­bil­ity. One idea would al­low air­men to work in a tech­ni­cal spe­cialty rather than move up the ranks into man­age­rial jobs.

Re­tired Maj. Gen. Su­san Pamer­leau, a for­mer com­man­der of the Air Force Per­son­nel Cen­ter on Ran­dolph and a for­mer Bexar County sher­iff, cau­tioned that any de­vi­a­tion from the way peo­ple progress in the mil­i­tary’s “up-or-out” ca­reer track, in­clud­ing al­low­ing some to work ex­clu­sively in tech­ni­cal jobs, could cost the ser­vice good lead­ers.

“There’s no way to just come to a halt and say, ‘OK, I’m not go­ing any far­ther but now I can stay for as long as I want,’ ” said Pamer­leau, the fourth woman in the ac­tive-duty Air Force to be­come a two-star gen­eral.

“There are two things it can do,” she con­tin­ued. “It can stag­nate the op­por­tu­nity for oth­ers to move up. And the sec­ond part is it has the po­ten­tial to limit the numbers of ways to be con­sid­ered for se­nior lead­er­ship po­si­tions.”

Gen. David Gold­fein, the Air Force chief of staff, said ef­forts un­der un­der­way “to look at out­dated poli­cies that drive women away from serv­ing and erod­ing readi­ness,” such as re­duc­ing strict preg­nancy lim­i­ta­tions for fly­ing and of­fer­ing ca­reer in­ter­mis­sion pro­grams to keep ex­pe­ri­enced air­men. The Air Force also is study­ing uni­forms and equip­ment to en­sure they’re ap­pro­pri­ately de­signed for all air­men.

Women long have had to use equip­ment de­signed for men.

“To me this is a joint warfight­ing im­per­a­tive,” Gold­fein said. “We must re­tain our most tal­ented of­fi­cers and NCOs so we have the di­verse lead­er­ship re­quired to find cre­ative so­lu­tions to com­plex chal­lenges.”

One of the lat­est in­no­va­tions: A tan- or sand-col­ored breast­feed­ing T-shirt women can use with their util­ity uni­forms.

Strug­gling to stay

Like many women in the Air Force, Bri Peter­son, 35, grap­ples with prob­lems that seem to defy so­lu­tion — the up­root­ing of her fam­ily ev­ery few years for a new as­sign­ment; the or­deal of find­ing on-base child care; re­solv­ing oc­ca­sional con­flicts be­tween work and fam­ily; and watch­ing her hus­band launch yet an­other job search.

“It’s a strug­gle we’re go­ing to face ev­ery time I get or­ders, that he’s go­ing to have to leave what­ever job he’s in and find a new job,” she said.

Day care is an­other headache. Be­fore mov­ing to Ran­dolph, the cou­ple en­rolled Gavin in one of the base Child­care De­vel­op­ment Cen­ters. Al­most a year passed be­fore they got an of­fer in May.

“For­tu­nately, my mom is re­tired; so she was able to come down and take care of our son for us,” Peter­son said.

A pri­vate breast­feed­ing place at work also would be help­ful, which was noted in the study.

“The fact that they high­lighted the point that the breast­feed­ing room should not be a bath­room. When I had my son, my last squadron, it was a bath­room in a build­ing with … only two women’s bath­rooms,” she said. “So I was in there for how­ever long it took me to close down an en­tire bath­room in the build­ing.”

Fi­nally, the big­gest chal­lenge is when­ever Grant loses his job. It hap­pens ev­ery time they move and will be a re­cur­ring fea­ture of their lives as long as Bri is in the ser­vice. They could get a new as­sign­ment as early as next year, forc­ing him to quit the cam­era ex­change store and start over.

“He’s very sup­port­ive of my ca­reer, and he knows it’s some­thing that has to hap­pen un­til I sep­a­rate from the mil­i­tary,” said Bri, who has more than 2,600 fly­ing hours in the C-17 cargo plane, T-1 train­ing jet and other air­craft. “He’s got the ex­pe­ri­ence in or­der to be the next-level man­ager in run­ning mul­ti­ple stores, but be­cause we move around so much, that’s not a po­si­tion he’s go­ing to get hired to do un­til we stop mov­ing.”

Com­mit­ted to their ca­reers

Peter­son and two fel­low pi­lots in her wing, Maj. Lindsay An­drew and Lt. Col. Al­li­son Patak, said they plan to stay in the ser­vice un­til they re­tire, de­spite the chal­lenges.

They said they want Air Force ca­reers, not jobs in the civil­ian world. The in­flec­tion point for pi­lots, who have a 10-year ser­vice com­mit­ment, comes af­ter 12 or 13 years in the ranks.

“That par­tic­u­lar time frame, in which the women leave at about dou­ble the rate of men, there’s a lot of things that hap­pen,” said An­drew, 36, of Mar­ion. “For pi­lots, it is the first time that we are al­lowed out of our pi­lot com­mit­ment, so the 10- to 12-year mark is when a lot of women leave.

“The Re­serves of­fer a lot of op­por­tu­nity and a lot more flex­i­bil­ity than the ac­tive-duty does; so a lot of it is out­side op­por­tu­nity. And then on top of that is the mil­i­tary lifestyle is

“It’s a strug­gle we’re go­ing to face ev­ery time I get or­ders, that he’s go­ing to have to leave what­ever job he’s in.”

Maj. Bri Peter­son, a T-1 in­struc­tor pi­lot, about her ca­reer’s im­pact on the life of her hus­band, Grant

Robin Jer­stad / Con­trib­u­tor

Air Force Lt. Col. Al­li­son Patak is suited up for a train­ing flight from Joint Base San An­to­nio-Ran­dolph.

Michael Cia­glo / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

Lt. Col. Catie Hague and her hus­band, Nick, a colonel, have spent seven of their 20 years in the Air Force apart.

Robin Jer­stad / Con­trib­u­tor

Lt. Col. Al­li­son Patak says she didn’t have a fe­male ad­viser to help thread her way be­tween her work and home pri­or­i­ties. The prob­lem grows as ca­reers progress.

Robin Jer­stad / Con­trib­u­tor

Hel­mets wait to be worn dur­ing train­ing flights at Joint Base San An­to­nio-Ran­dolph.

Michael Cia­glo / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

Lt. Col. Catie Hague (cen­ter) looks through an ori­en­ta­tion bin­der for ROTC cadets.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.