I took a deliberate pause from writing because I needed to focus all of my efforts on the redeployment process and conducting turnover with my replacement; I am happy to report I am home and all was completed. In addition to our decompression program in Germany, the pause there gave me the opportunity to catch up on some serious spa-time, shop in the Germany Base Exchange bigger than the entire size of my deployed camp, and of course visit with dear friends stationed in Germany. Having the ability to decompress allowed me to reflect and appreciate how much I love people and how grateful I am to have so many awesome ones in my life.
I am dedicating this post and the two to follow in a 3-Part series “Out of Comfort Zone Connections” to all of the wonderful relationships I formed during this deployment. It takes effort to get out of our comfort zone; however, when we go out of our way to connect with others, we can create powerful relationships that would otherwise not exist. I had the opportunity to build bonds I hope will last; I allowed myself to be vulnerable and the reward was incredible.
In my field, we tend to be on the outskirts of base life; however, I’ve always believed in integration with our customer to fully provide support, especially overseas where we emphasize force protection. In this trip, part of our mission was to build up a location, set rules and policy to ensure safety and security for us and future deployers. When I first arrived, the base’s group commander made it very clear to me he did not consider me part of his leadership team. It was an interesting discussion as I was always welcomed elsewhere, in other wings and groups when I was the commander at previous detachments. Granted some folks aren’t as familiar with our mission and his call sign referencing a Beverly Hillbillies character gave me a clue that his perspective likely differed from my own on many topics. I respected his decision and still worked to achieve the needed security objectives; I pressed on with priorities and it worked out.
In one month group leadership changed. At this point, I had the choice of allowing things to continue on as they were or gently suggest a different option. It was intimidating; I heard good things about our new commander, but I did not know how he would react. I also recognized by asking for inclusion I could again receive “Who does she think she is?” I knew we could still accomplish the mission either way; however, I decided I owed it to him as a customer to ask for a change. After already giving him our mission brief the previous day, I caught him in a moment away from others and presented my proposal, explained how I could serve an advisory function to his group. He looked at me like I was crazy…ulp…Then he said “Of course you are a part of my leadership team.” What a relief!
His inclusion of me opened so many opportunities where we provided guidance to positively impact base security posture and policy. I worked diligently to address his requirements and questions; as with anyone in any career, being appreciated makes you work much harder. In addition to the information I provided due to my job; as the female on his team, I was able to offer another perspective and counsel. Then, when he wanted to give cultural and security guidance to our women warriors; he was also able to take advantage of my unique skill set. To address certain situations, the commander turned to me and asked me to conduct Female All Calls. I have so much respect for him because he was willing to acknowledge we are equal, but different. Women are faced with unique challenges being both in the Middle East and deployed environment; he wanted to address those differences and it was exciting for me to be able to provide this training to the female populace, start the conversation and actually use my background to mentor and guide others. Had he not included me, I would not have been able to provide this additional service. He is a phenomenal commander and I’d follow him anywhere. I learned he also appreciated our working relationship as well our unit’s contributions to the base build up.
Had I allowed the previous status quo to continue, none of this would have happened. I was patient with my initial circumstances, and wiggled in when the opportunity presented itself. He took a risk his predecessor wasn’t willing to take by including me as one of “his commanders;” in return, together as a team, we produced creative solutions to many challenges. As women, it may be harder on us to assert inclusion to a group not “like us;” when we allow ourselves to feel the vulnerability and do what we need to do, the results are worth it. If you are rejected? It’s their loss, no worries - move on. I set myself up for possible rejection, and was rewarded with the ability to fully engage and accomplish the mission in the most ideal manner. This commander really appreciated my engagement and integration; I laugh because he was the one that enabled and allowed me to do “my thang.”
Sometimes in your career, you will feel the need to reach up and out of your comfort zone; it may seem most uncomfortable because others may feel you do not belong. The relationship can't be forced, but follow your gut; when the timing is right, take the risk for the sake of the mission.