964th AACS command team makes history

  • Published
  • By Jillian Coleman, 72nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

For the first time in the squadron’s history, the 964th Airborne Air Control Squadron has four women at the helm leading the Phoenix, where pride and culture are strong.

Though none are unfamiliar in calling the 552nd Air Control Wing “home.” Lt. Col. Jennifer Garrison’s third tour at Tinker Air Force Base brought with it her first squadron command. Her deputy, Lt. Col. Anne Portlock, is in her second assignment at Tinker. Chief Master Sergeant Kayla Stout is also back at Tinker for the second time since her very first assignment. Rounding out the leadership team is the First Sergeant, Master Sergeant Rosemarie Tamba, who by trade, is force support. She spent a little more than a year with the 552nd Maintenance Squadron before transferring to the 964th.

Though there are four women in distinct roles, the team concept is huge. The leadership style focuses on regular open dialogue to contribute to the team’s success. Inclusivity outweighs individualism, and mentorship drives success.

“There is not a decision I make that doesn’t involve these women in some way,” Garrison said. “The fact that this command team is all female was not intentional, but we were chosen specifically for squadron leadership because of what we each bring to the table. All of our backgrounds help move the squadron forward, just as any diverse command team would.”

The 964th is one of five airborne air control squadrons housed at Tinker. With the same platform, same mission and roughly the same amount of personnel, only deployment timelines separate one squadron from another. The team leading the Phoenix encourages Airmen to embrace the unit as a family and to prioritize working well together in order to thrive.

“We have a really fun dynamic here,” Portlock said. “As a team, we talk through every decision every day. We know the importance of taking care of our Airmen and ultimately, we want to be able to help people and their families make decisions to meet the goals for their careers.”

The E-3 is a crew-concept jet, so while breaking the female barrier is a little easier than it would be perhaps in a fighter community, it is significant nonetheless. Although the foursome makes history by the first all-female command team, the women have a mentality that working hard and leading well should supersede all else.

“We have been blessed with good leadership, and I have always been given the opportunity to voice the direction where I wanted to go with my career, the path I’d like to follow and the ‘why’ behind it,” Garrison said. “I was lucky, because I was never told that I had to do something because I was a female. I wanted to serve, and I wanted to start a family, but females were underrepresented and I didn’t know what I could do. So my goal in command is to allow our women to be just as transparent.”

Transparency is not without struggle or challenge though, according to the command chief. It can be hard to incorporate flying schedules, children and deployments, especially with those who are mil-to-mil families.

“It’s a difficult and delicate balance,” Stout added. “The stigma, of course, is that the female can’t make it – she can’t have her career because she has to support her partner’s career. We really encourage our Airmen to have an open dialogue and keep conversation channels flowing so that we can help them achieve their goals.”

Since the four women joined the Air Force, they have witnessed an evolution in terms of inequalities, stereotypes and opportunities. According to the commander, the right tone is being set.

“You know, a lot has changed since we first joined. One of the biggest takeaways for me has been to know that it is OK to ask for what I want and what I think I should be getting, and not settling,” Garrison said. “The other piece I would say that has shaped me in my career and in developing my leadership style is emphasizing inclusion.

“We embody it because we know what it truly means, both good and bad. This team tries to talk things out to really understand all sides and perspectives. We want to learn what could have driven this response or action and how we can respond, as leaders, in kind. That is always at the forefront for me: considering the human in front of us and not necessarily the action alone.”

With four illustrious careers heading the 964th AACS, they have seen a lot, lived a lot and experienced a lot. Some were fortunate to have solid groups of women to help guide them through tech schools and training. Others lacked the mentorship as young Airmen. All have seen the generational standards diminish and the Air Force move in a positive direction. Still, there is always more to improve.

“When you become a noncommissioned officer or noncommissioned officer in charge, I hope to see more conversations and forums occur to discuss expectations and experiences,” Tamba said. “It is very easy to struggle navigating personal and professional roles, and just like we have opportunities to merge seamlessly into motherhood or marriage, I hope to have more opportunities to share stories and gain wisdom from other experiences.”

The team has projects in place to get Airmen more invested in the unit.

One initiative bringing Airmen together is the Virtual Leadership Panel with the 964th AACS all female leadership team. This will be an ongoing initiative to build trust and collaborate with other women across the 552nd ACW and it will give them a chance to ask questions of the panel.