An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Stepping up from the bottom of the totem pole

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jenifer H. Calhoun
  • 380th Air Expedionary Wing Public Affairs
Following an intense week of being out of my comfort zone and experiencing a day in the life of my leadership, I really got to see just how much every job means to the Air Force.

In doing my day-to-day deployed job, you could say I'm on the low end of the totem pole, but experience has now showed me you can step up to the top of that totem pole at any time.

As an Air Force photographer, I document Airmen on the job and display how they impact the mission. I also photograph ceremonies, official portraits, promotions, damage to government property, and at times, even crime scenes. Doing all of this supports a myriad of public affairs stories, releases and presentations through still photographic means. I've probably photographed a totem pole somewhere along the way.

Recently however, for a day while my whole shop was out, I had the opportunity to really step up to the plate and represent them and see exactly what happens at various wing-level meetings. I also experienced large scale information distribution as I was in charge of sending out wing-wide emails, which is normally left to my captain and master sergeant.

First challenge of the day was wing stand-up, where our deployed squadron and group commanders present their daily reports and updates on mission status. There I was, among a room full of giants to give the public affairs report by presenting headlines and showing the media's perspective in the regional area of geopolitical topics. As I walked into a room and sat in the PA seat, the questioning began.

"Where's your captain," one person said to me. "Are sure you can do this," said another. But confident with my slide, prepared by my master sergeant, I sat patiently and waited my turn. Reading over my materials ahead of time helped me prepare for any further questions.

Nervously, I got up and read my script just hoping that no one noticed my left foot shaking and the beads of sweat ready to boil out of me. With nerves in toll, I stood up to my challenge and ran through my slide and notes. I received a few questions and fumbled slightly during one from the wing commander, but quickly recovered and regained my composer to finish the presentation.

After the meeting, I scurried back to my office to prepare for the next briefing with our director of staff. Still running on adrenaline from the last briefing, I organized the material that I had been given along with my instructions so I could put together my slides and present them. A few bits of information weren't as I may have liked, but all I could do was my best and show that in the presentation with poise and confidence. I wasn't just representing me anymore; I was representing and presenting my team.

Once again, another roomful of "giants' were before me, except this time they were members of the wing staff agencies I work with on a regular basis. I was eager to show I wasn't just Senior Airman Calhoun who takes pictures all the time. It was my opportunity to show that merging my career field with PA and broadcasting was working. I presented our slides to the director of staff and took notes. Another meeting down and I was still alive, fighting strong and all before lunch.

Just one more meeting to go and gratefully, no slides needed to be prepared so I was off the hook. All I had to was attend, smile, take notes and report back to my office. Then out of nowhere I get hit with, "Hey, I need this wing-wide email sent out! The event is today and we really need to notify the base about it so they will show up."

One small issue, I wasn't authorized to send out this type of e-mail. Usually my captain or master sergeant sends them out. With a thousand things running through my head, permission was granted from leadership, and I was on my way to editing and sending out an email that the whole base would be receiving within a matter of minutes.

Slightly frazzled, but still composed, I went to my last meeting and came back to the office with my co-workers returning from a flight and current job that they had just covered for publication. Needless to say, I have never felt so grateful to see two individuals in my whole career. I felt like a puppy at the pound that had just gotten adopted and gave them a rundown of my exciting day. The baton was happily handed back to the master sergeant to take for the rest of the week.

Closing up a busy day, I was able to reflect on just how much I had seen and learned. I had the opportunity and responsibility to face a challenge and make a presentation at the wing level that some Airmen may never get the opportunity to do. More importantly, I was able to see just how much impact every wrench turned, every meal served, every "picture taken" really does have an impact on completing the mission.

Without the wrench turned, a plane doesn't take off for its combat mission. Without the Airman at the dining facility serving the maintainer, a wrench isn't turned, and without the photo of the Airman serving the meal the world doesn't know that person or the mission exist or is making an impact.

"I was nervous at first about leaving you alone, but I know your abilities and it's not just about rank, it's about ability," Master Sgt. Scott Sturkol, my public affairs supervisor told me afterward.

I never expected to be put in a situation like this until much higher rank, but with good training, mentorship, a dose of confidence and the needs of the Air Force, even a senior airman can face a room full of giants and tackle the challenges in from of them. Who knows, you could be that Airman next - rising to the top of the totem pole.