DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. --
The command chief master sergeant of Air Mobility Command helped recognize Women's history month during a breakfast event March 20 here.
Chief Master Sergeant Shelina Frey, AMC command chief, shared tales of personal dreams, struggles and triumphs, drawing silence, shock and laughter as the audience responded to her genuine message.
“Women’s History Month is not about competing with men,” Frey said. “It’s about taking your rightful place in history. For us as women to succeed, we have to champion one another. That’s why I’m here today. I’m here because I want every woman in this room to [think], ‘my god, if she can do it, so can I.’ And, yes you can.”
In her message, Frey explained how throughout her career, and even before she joined the military, her dreams repeatedly slipped through her grasp. Without those dreams passing her by, and without good mentors, she wouldn’t be where she is today.
At one point in her career, the stress became too much for her to bear, and she broke down, but the result was a renewed strength in pursuit of her dreams.
“I walked around my apartment in tears,” Frey shared with the audience. “I was fed up. I told myself, ‘I’m going to give this [prayer] thing a try.’ I mean, I’ve prayed before – you know, the prayer thing we do that’s all cute, you don’t want to ruin your makeup in prayer – this was time to get ugly. I cried and I lay on that floor, and I said, ‘Lord, do not wake me up in the morning if you don’t have a purpose for my life, because I can’t do this anymore … I cried, and cried, and cried, and fell asleep. I woke up the next morning on the floor, and when I got up off the floor, I put on this uniform and went to work. I said, ‘enough is enough, there’s something out there for me,’ and there was.
“There were people that were waiting for me to figure out who I was so they could take me to my potential.”
Frey credited much of her career path and her current position, as the highest ranking enlisted member in AMC, to the efforts of good mentors throughout her career. However, as important as having a mentor is, Frey believes preparing oneself to be mentored is just as important.
“Before you run out to be a mentor, before you run out to get a mentor, you’ve got to posture yourself to get mentored,” Frey said. “And if your mentor acts like you, looks like you and talks like you, that’s your friend. The difference between the two is, your friends will tell you what you want to hear, but a mentor will tell you what you need to know to get you to where you want to be. And, it’s good to have both.
“Ladies, I know it’s Women’s History Month, and we should be talking about women mentoring women, and we should, but you’re not going to get anywhere until you get a male mentor,” Frey continued. “And even within that, you’ve got to distinguish between a mentor and somebody that you’re interested in. Don’t use mentoring as a game to get that dude, because you’ll end up with more mentoring than you can handle when the children come.”
Frey’s message laden with humor elicited laughter from her audience as she drew even greater attention.
At the end of her message, Frey called up Airman 1st Class Karie Thomas, 436th Aerospace Medicine Squadron public health technician, for special recognition. She praised Thomas’ work ethic, enthusiasm and Airmanship as she coined her on the stage.
“Getting coined by Chief Frey is something that I will take with me for the rest of my career and life,” Thomas said. “I met her last summer after I briefed her, and what she had to say to me then both encouraged and inspired me. I was going through a particularly challenging point in my life and she gave me motivation to keep pushing. To be coined by her and hearing what she had to say, both during her speech and to me personally, were moments that I will always remember. She has truly inspired me as a person, woman and Airman.”
Thomas attended the event with no idea of her pending recognition. For her, celebrating Women’s History Month is a way for her to honor all the women who have inspired her and those she hopes to inspire someday. It is also a celebration of how far the nation has progressed since the women’s rights movements started, but it’s also a reminder that there’s still work to be done.
“Our country has made great strides to eliminate any and all barriers that hinder equality, but we aren’t perfect and still have more steps to take,” Thomas said. “I believe that Women’s History Month not only allows both women and men to reflect and remember the people who have spearheaded this change, but also to motivate us to never accept less than what’s right; to know when something isn’t right, not to be afraid to speak out and stand up and ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself by allowing rights to be taken from its citizens.”
Another member in attendance, Senior Master Sgt. Donald Clayborn, 436th Logistics Readiness Squadron deployment and distribution flight superintendent, said he was also moved by her message, and explained why he attends events like these.
“I’m biracial, half black and half Asian,” Clayborn said. “Growing up, Black History Month was always a reminder of the people that pushed through their challenges. People sometimes see [these commemorative months] as the reopening of a scab, but for me it’s a time of healing. It’s a time to say, ‘wow, how did he get through that? How did she get through that?’ Commemorative months foster conversation and growth, both personally and as a community.”
Clayborn said this sentiment was the push that brought him to the breakfast, and he was glad he attended.
“To see her take what she’s gone through and make it a part of her story instead of making it her entire story – as a part of the fabric of who she is – told me that I can do the same,” Clayborn said. “I’m still not ready to talk about some of the things I’ve endured, but to see her say, ‘this almost robbed me of a dream, and then this almost robbed me of a dream, but I still kept dreaming,’ it helped me realize, I can keep dream and growing too.
“Our Airmen need us, and they need our stories,” he continued. “She loves what she does, and I love what I do. I’m learning as I grow in rank that everything I’ve endured in my career and before really creates the fibers necessary to make a good leader, and it’s what makes people gravitate toward you. Chief Frey gave me hope that I’ll be able to continue to grow as an Air Force leader, but also that I can have my own story and Airmen can benefit from sharing it.”