Faces of military women: the leader

  • Published
  • By Maj. Sarah Schults
  • 319th Mission Support Squadron commander
Some people wonder how a military leader - and a mom - can be successful at both. From personal experience, I can tell you it is a fine balance between the time it takes to be a good Airman and leader and the time it takes to ensure your children have the attention, discipline, education and love needed to make them into happy, healthy, contributing Americans. 

Commander or not, for most of us, our families (i.e. children and spouse) are our primary calling. We learn the hard way how to make the best of the time we have - both on the job and at home. Over time, I have come to realize that you can’t always have your cake and eat it, too. 

The whole issue of being a commander and a mom comes down to making some tough decisions - choosing to spend time away from family and loved ones in order to see the mission through. Even though that decision is tough, I know that I am doing it for them through the defense of our nation. 

I have learned to accept the fact that I had to give something up to be successful as both a commander and as a parent. Once I recognized there would be a cost, I went about making the best of it. The relationship between family and the military is one of give-and-take. Sacrifices exist on both sides. 

Some of those sacrifices include missing special times that small children go through - first steps, first words and funny statements about life. They probably won’t remember, but I will. There are also times when your family needs you, but you just can’t give them time. It’s then I am most grateful for those like my mom and dad, who help me "pick up the slack" at home. When my own parents are not available, I ask friends who I trust for help. Sometimes you just have to excuse yourself to take care of things at home while the office waits. Leaders in today’s Air Force are wise to recognize this fact and work with their trustworthy personnel on this balance between home and the mission. 

Knowing and accepting the facts is key to success as a leader and a career Airman who wants to raise a family. As the Air Force draws down, our units will need us more. But so will our families. I often remind myself that when I retire, it is my family and friends who will be with me - not the Air Force. 

One other point: if I can’t take care of my family, then I most likely shouldn’t be entrusted with the care of a squadron. Therefore, my number two priorities lie in the men and women of the 319th Mission Support Squadron - my extended family. It isn’t easy to juggle the commitments to your family and unit. It comes down to being truthful with yourself and achieving a balance - you can’t always have your cake and eat it, too. By facing each challenge with the “can do” attitude of an “overcomer,” life becomes interesting.