Female Defender Initiative: Breaking down barriers

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Miranda Mahoney
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

At the beginning of this year, three U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeants came together over a mutual desire to improve their squadron. Working side-by-side, they started a program to create a safe environment where Airmen can build healthy working relationships through education and discussion.

Staff Sgt. Jessica Poteet, 1st Special Operations Security Forces Squadron Base Defense Operations Center controller, Staff Sgt. Hunter Thomas, 1st SOSFS Alpha Flight sergeant, and Staff Sgt. Ta'kia Clark-McGirt, 1st SOSFS Non-Commissioned Officer in charge of physical security, brought the Female Defender Initiative to Hurlburt Field, Florida.

“I first heard about FDI when I went to deployment training,” said Poteet. “I had really awesome cadre who briefed us about it after training one day, and they shared some of their own personal stories. It honestly felt like a safe space for us to talk about hard situations us female defenders have endured throughout our time in the military. I have been in for 16 years and wish this was around when I was coming up in my career.”

The sergeants have laid the groundwork for Hurlburt’s newly formed FDI, conducting several trainings designed for participants to openly discuss ways to work through barriers within the squadron. Both men and women are encouraged to, and have, attended.

“I want us to stand together as a force,” said Thomas. “Even though we are different, I want you to understand me, and I want to get to know you and how you operate.”

The team is working toward making FDI a more collaborative effort, being there to assist each section in the squadron as they alternate taking the lead on trainings.

“Everyone wants to be included, and once you are a part of something you can build friendships, connect with each other and network,” said Clark-McGirt. “Say an Airmen feels like they don’t have anyone to talk to, they can come to FDI to connect with others.”

The group has already started to implement change, addressing topics ranging from gear upgrades to reinforcing boundaries in the workplace.

“I want our defenders to feel like they are valued, their voice matters and they can lean on their defender family,” said Poteet.