JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Women Inspiring the Next Generations, or WINGS, now has a chapter at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, and is holding its first meeting March 17, 2021.
WINGS was created to inspire and advocate for women in the military, and to encourage professional and personal growth. It is open to all active-duty, reserve and National Guard service members and Department of Defense civilian personnel, regardless of branch, rank or gender.
“This organization captures everybody across the spectrum,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Christina Johnson, the 673d Medical Group Pediatric Clinic Flight chief and JBER WINGS chapter president. “We now have the space and the platform to learn from and grow from each other. It’s not just a women’s empowerment group – it’s an every-person organization where we can learn, grow and mentor.”
The genesis of the JBER chapter came from Johnson, who said she discussed the idea with her friends and now-JBER WINGS chapter executive members. With the encouragement and support from her friend group, Johnson went ahead with the process to establish a WINGS chapter on JBER.
“In addition to raising my own children, I also find challenges in leading a large flight of junior enlisted Airmen and young officers so I see different challenges others might not see,” Johnson said. “I’m hoping to at least bring that experience and that expertise to somebody else who might not know how to navigate those situations. WINGS gives us an opportunity to learn from each other and grow from there – it's just an awesome opportunity.”
Although the number of females serving in the U.S. military has increased over the years, they still make up less than 20 percent, according to the 2019 Demographics Profile of the Military Community. This presents unique challenges for females operating in the male-dominated environment.
“I feel like there is so much pressure to be a certain way, that we must fit a specific image or personality, and when we differ from that we are looked at as the odd ones,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Shannon McKenzie, 301st Intelligence Squadron director of operations staff and JBER WINGS chapter treasurer. “We are not all the same, and that fact should be celebrated, not contained.
“I look forward to the day when there aren’t as many firsts, that it’s not a major achievement that a woman is leading men, but just acknowledging that a leader is leading other leaders,” McKenzie continued.
McKenzie and Johnson said they have already been discussing these issues on a smaller scale and within their peer group. WINGS provides a larger platform for such experiences to be shared and more opportunities for mentorship, to spread awareness and advocate for change.
“Growing up in the Air Force as a female, it's a very different experience than it’s advertised,” McKenzie said. “I grew up with few females to look up to or discuss things with. When I deployed or went to my first unit, I had no idea about what interactions were supposed to be versus what actually occurred. Now I try to help junior enlisted Airmen understand what to expect and provide a sounding board for them to discuss things that happen.”
“I learned about WINGS about a year ago,” Johnson said. “We didn't have anything like it at JBER and, from what I could tell, almost everywhere I've been stationed we didn't have it ... [The JBER WINGS chapter] has blown up in the past few weeks and I am very grateful for the support and the attention it's gotten. This organization would not be where it is without the other executive board members helping me along the way.”
The organization’s inclusivity has been a large part of that attention.
“What really separates this private org from others is this is inclusive of all ranks, services and genders,” McKenzie said. “This helps fill a need that was identified that other organizations aren't offering.”
Originating in 2013 at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, WINGS has since grown to five chapters at different U.S. military installations, and there are approximately 17 more chapters pending.