Getting personal: Enlisted through and through
In her new role as the 501st Combat Support Wing’s top enlisted airman, Command Chief Master Sgt. Maria Cornelia represents the enlisted force at four bases in the U.K. She spoke last week at the Women’s History Month luncheon.
How do you reach out to airmen and gain their trust?
I try to go to common places where I know airmen will be there and just try to interact and talk to them. … It’s great to get out because then people see you and they know that you’re approachable. … They have to know they can come to you and talk to you about everything. And it’s important for airmen to see you’re a person just like they are.
I noticed on your bio that you earned several degrees after enlisting, did you ever think about going to officer training school?
No. I am an enlisted member through and through. I finished my degree well in time to have applied for OTS. But at the time, I had just really connected with my mentors who were enlisted when I first came in. Personally I think I’ve had more opportunity to make a bigger impact earlier in my career as an enlisted person than I would have had I been an officer. …
For enlisted members, we’re the technical backbone of the Air Force, and we really are the workers of the Air Force. As we progress through the ranks, I think that our opportunities to lead and manage come earlier than they do for officers. Often you’ll see a junior (noncommissioned officer) in charge of a large section where you may not see a second lieutenant or even a captain in charge of the same magnitude of people. I just think we are provided with many, if not more, leadership opportunities and earlier on in our careers.
You were the keynote speaker at the Women’s History Month luncheon during which you said the first time you attended such an event you didn’t understand the significance. What’s changed?
I think it’s important to look at some of the struggles women before us have gone through. Whether it be gender or race or ethnic background, we all go through different struggles. But to particularly look at what females went through and how far we’ve come is pretty amazing. Just 10 years ago there’s no way I would have been in this position. … We only make up about 20 percent of the Air Force, so there’s going to be less of us in leaderships positions. … But when you think about things like not having e-mail 10 years ago, we’ve come along technology-wise, and I think we’ve also come a long way as far as our social interactions. … It’s kind of a message throughout the Air Force that when you look out at a group of people you mentor and you lead, you should not be looking at people who only look like you.
Some women don’t want to be recognized as “the first woman” to hold a position or be distinguished from their male counterparts in terms of their service or duties, why do you think that is?
… All females, I think we want to be selected for a position or want to perform something because we’re the best person at that time. It’s still important to quantify or identify that they are “firsts” because they are making history. Even though we sometimes don’t want to carry those titles, it’s important because it’s part of our history. … Now we have an opportunity to do almost everything males do, and I think one day there won’t be anything that women are excluded from.