Women of the Military

One of the first female Army Helicopter Pilots

Episode Summary

Shannon served as one of the first female Army Helicopter pilots. Today she takes the lessons she learned from the cockpit and corporate life as an author and speaker. Her newest book The Grit Factor: Courage, Resilience and Leadership in the Most Male Dominated Organization in the World is the book she wished she would have had earlier in life as she had to make tough decisions. She interviewed women to share their experiences and lessons learned along with tying in her own experiences from both military and corporate life.

Episode Notes

Women of the Military would like to thank Sabio Coding Bootcamp for sponsoring this week's episode! Sabio Coding Bootcamp is a top-ranked coding Bootcamp that is 100% dedicated to helping smart and highly motivated individuals become exceptional software engineers.  Visit their website www.Sabio.la to learn how you may be able to use your GI Bill benefits to train at Sabio.  Your tuition and a monthly BAH stipend may be paid during your training period.  They also are 100% committed to helping you find your first job in tech.  Don’t forget to head over to www.Sabio.la to learn more today. 

Check out the full show notes at https://www.airmantomom.com/2021/05/female-army-helicopter-pilots/

Check out the full transcript here.  

Thank you to my Patreon Sponsor Col Level and above:
Kevin Barba, Adriana Keefe, Lorraine Diaz

Thank you Patreon members for your support. Become a Patreon member today! Click here.   

Episode Transcription

Amanda Huffman00:00

Welcome to Episode 143 of the women of the military podcast. We're continuing the women veteran author series with the fourth veteran author this week, Shannon Huffman Polson. She served in the Army as a helicopter pilot and she was one of the first women to fill that role as an Apache helicopter pilot. Women were not allowed to serve in combat aircraft until 1993, which was the same year she graduated from college. Today she takes the lessons she learned from the cockpit and corporate life as an author and speaker. her newest book, the grip factor, courage, resilience and leadership and the most male dominated organization in the world is the book she wish she would have had earlier in life as she had to make tough choices. she interviewed women to share their experiences, and lessons learned along with time in her own experiences from both military and corporate life. And now let's get started with this week center. You're listening to season three of the women on the military podcast Here you will find the real stories of female service members. I'm Amanda Huffman, I am an Air Force veteran military spouse and Mom, I Korean women in the military podcast in 2019. As a place to share the stories of female service members past and present, with the goal of finding the heart of the story while uncovering the triumphs and challenges women face while serving in the military. If you want to be encouraged by the stories of military women and be inspired to change the world. Keep tuned for this latest episode of women on the military. Women of the military podcast would like to thank saburo coding boot camp for sponsoring this week's episode savea coding boot camp is a top ranked coding boot camp that is 100% dedicated to helping smart and highly motivated individuals become exceptional software engineers visit their website@www.sabio.la to learn how you may be able to use your GI Bill benefits to train at savea your tuition and monthly bH stipend may be paid during your training period. They are also 100% committed and helping you find your first job in tech. So don't forget to head over to www.sabio.la to learn more. And now let's get started with this week's interview. Welcome to the show. Jan, I'm excited to have you here. Thanks for being great to be with you. So let's get started with Why did you decide to join the army? I almost said Air Force.


Shannon Polson02:52

Yeah, no, that's right. It's the typical suit is hard to distinguish sometimes, right? Well, I was in ROTC at Duke University. And I didn't think even that I would join ROTC. But I had arrived at Duke my freshman year it was 1989. And I was the eldest of three children. I knew college was a big stretch for our family. I had lots of loans, I had a couple of different jobs already on campus. And I went to a college fair and the all of the ROTC were represented there. But the Navy and the Air Force required you to be an engineer, and I wanted to be a liberal arts major. So I decided to try army. And I figured I wouldn't care for it. It never occurred to me that that would be something that I would do. But I ended up really loving it. And I love the people. I love the connection to higher purpose. And I ended up being a really good fit. And then I applied for what ended up being a two year scholarship and the rest is history.


Amanda Huffman03:47

Yeah, so you didn't have a military background. You just were looking for a way to pay for college.


Shannon Polson03:53

Pretty much. I mean, my dad had been drafted for Vietnam out of law school, and he had ended up being diverted to Alaska instead of Vietnam as a jag officer. So I ended up being born on Fort Richardson, or while my dad was stationed at Fort Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska, and we ended up staying in Alaska, which was a terrific place to grow up, I only had probably 18 months of being an army brat. So I don't remember any of that. But he was certainly very proud of the service. But that was the extent to that on both sides of the family. There really wasn't much of a family history. Now.


Amanda Huffman04:24

That's really interesting. And you're like, well, I'll try it out. When I did ROTC, I could try it out for a year. And then if I liked it, then I could do it. And that was like one of the reasons that I was like, Yeah, I don't know if I want to do this military thing is did you have a similar experience where you could try it out? And then you decided you liked it?


Shannon Polson04:42

Yeah, pretty much. I mean, I didn't to apply for a scholarship except for the two year guaranteed reserve forces duty scholarship. So clearly, I was a little ambivalent even into my second year, but I ended up going active duty ultimately, that's a different story altogether, for sure. But I think that ambivalence was still not quite believing that that was going to be the track that I was going to take. I figured possibly the National Guard, I ended up then drilling with the National Guard, of course, as part of a simultaneous membership program. I don't know if those still exists, but it was essentially a National Guard scholarship. And I really, I really enjoyed the service. I love the service. I did well, and I ended up requesting active duty at the end. Wow.


Amanda Huffman05:23

Yeah, I know, I think it's always changing and like how the different officer programs are changing, like, sometimes you do National Guard sometimes, like what I did, everyone went active duty. And that was just what everybody did. But the different people I talked to, it just depends on like, when they went through their program and what the military was looking for, and how they ended up in their their role.


Shannon Polson05:47

Well, it's all it needs. The Army, right is what we would say for the army. I'm sure it's same for the Air Force and Navy at the end of the day that it's more than anything else. But but I do think that it helped to have been actively engaged and and have done well in ROTC. And then making that request to go on to active duty was something that the CADRE was excited to support. And it ended up being a whole whole nother journey altogether.


Amanda Huffman06:09

So what year was it that you graduated and went active duty?


Shannon Polson06:13

1993. So I served active duty from 1993 to 2001. And I was in the guard for the two years prior to that. Okay, I guess technically so.


Amanda Huffman06:23

And when you so when you went on active duty in 1993. And you want you're planning to be a pilot, how did that work?


Shannon Polson06:31

Yep. I have requested and been assigned aviation branch 1993. It was when the combat exclusion clause was lifted. And so when I initially was assigned aviation branch and was initially expecting to take that commission in the National Guard, Apaches and scout aircraft, both scout and attack aircraft were not open to women to fly. And so there wasn't, I had no assumption that I would be flying those at all. And actually, I had the state aviation officer, when I went to receive my assignments, say, to me directly, you realize you'll never fly an attack aircraft, and there was this real belligerence in that end? And I just said, Yes, sir. Because obviously, there's nothing to be said at that point. And in that situation, except for that, especially as a cadet and not yet commissioned, and not yet graduated from college. But then right around that time of graduation is when they lift the combat exclusion clause, and suddenly every aircraft in the inventory was available to women and men to fly.


Amanda Huffman07:25

Yeah. Did you know about that legislation as it was going through Congress and like watching it, or is it just like, you can do anything you want now?


Shannon Polson07:35

No, I was a little bit aware of it. I was allowed or actually requested to attend a triangle securities conference that was held in the Raleigh Durham. You know, it's they call it the Raleigh Durham triangle anyway, with the head of the CADRE from our ROTC detachment. And I remember there were, I'm going to get all I would get the names wrong, if I were to say any of them. But Rhonda cornum was there as one example, and she was speaking for the inclusion of women in the Combat Arms as specifically in aviation, because she already done it right. she'd already been shot down in the first Iraq war. She'd been a pow, she'd survived. And, and she's just just a pretty tough cookie. But there were other people there that were arguing against it as well. So it was this interesting debate back and forth. And so I was aware of the debate for sure. Rhonda cornum his argument was the only one to me that made any sense at all.


Amanda Huffman08:25

All she had done it. So it makes sense.


Shannon Polson08:29

Yeah, I mean, it just was, it was absurd to me that there were general officers there arguing that because women could bear children lives were more important, and therefore they should be limited in what their roles should be. And that just absolutely made no sense to me. And it still doesn't make any sense to me. And fortunately, we're starting to make changes in that direction, and have made a lot of changes in that direction.


Amanda Huffman08:51

Yeah, I was reading some of the articles. Because I've been doing all the research about when women were allowed into all combat roles in 2016. And there were arguments like women can't do this. And I'm like, what war Have you been fighting? Like, women have been out on the front lines the whole time? I don't know. I don't know where your data is coming from. But it doesn't make any sense,


Shannon Polson09:13

whatsoever. And I have a funny story to tell you when I was 19. I was home in Alaska from college. And I had the chance to sign up for a climb up Denali, which is Mount McKinley, also the tallest mountain in North America. And and it wasn't a lark. Exactly. I mean, it was, I certainly signed up, you know, three weeks before the trip, which is sort of crazy, but I've been training for air assault school. So I've been carrying this, you know, big pack and running 13 miles on on hills. And so I've been training for the whole spring. And so I climbed Denali, which was a whole nother adventure in and of itself. And then I remember a couple of years later, actually noticed several years later because I was already stationed at Fort Bragg and flying the Apache and a friend of mine from growing up who's an Olympic Nordic skier Nina Kimball. She was a Different Olympics is Nordic skier. And if you know anything about Nordic skiing, it's a totally masochistic sport. It's awesome. But it's very, she's she's, she's tough. And she was climbing Denali. And there were a couple of Special Forces guys up there. And with all due respect to the Special Forces, guys, these these two were not the best representatives of them, I guess. And so she was climbing Denali up one of the more obscure routes, and they were going up the West buttress route, which is the standard route, the same one that I had done. It's hard regardless. But if you go more technical route, it's even more difficult. So Nina was going the technical route. They were going to standard kind of trade route. And she ran into them. And they were stationed at Fort Bragg. And she said, Oh, I have a friend who's who's fine Apaches there. She's one of the first women and they said, Oh, women are applying patches. And she said, Well, okay, well, I mean, I have a friend who's there who's doing it. And they were really dismissive of her. And then she ended up summit teeing up this very technical route up Denali and came back down and met them as they were descending, and they had not submitted. And she just sort of wave said, Oh, hey, and I just think, you know, I don't mean to bring that up to make too much fun of them. But to say that women have been doing these things, and been doing incredibly challenging things for a very long time, you know, was never in the military. But she could pretty much kick anyone's tail, and I live a place now where there are women who could, who do in fact, crush men at pretty much any sport, and it shouldn't be a competition. But the reality is, when you train for it, people can do whatever they set their minds to do. And it's absurd to think anything else.


Amanda Huffman11:24

So true. And just a good example of how those special forces members, they were like, no, women can't No, women aren't a patch. And she's like, no, my friend is like, and they were like, No, you're wrong. And I was like, but no, she it.


Shannon Polson11:39

People still don't know that the women are fighter pilots, like women have been fighter pilots since 1993. You guys like get catch up on your history? You're really, really far behind? Yeah,


Amanda Huffman11:50

I think there's been a interesting media campaign, because there are a lot of people against women being allowed to be in all roles. And for some reason, the way that it was portrayed, it made it so that like people thought women could have be fired. But like, I don't know, it just seems like reading the articles and reading the information. The general public is really confused, because it doesn't have all the information like I was in combat in 2010. And I was in the Air Force deployed with the army. And that's, that doesn't even make any sense with the way the rules were written. But that's what was happening. But nobody talks about that. They only want to be like, Well, no, they can't do it. So Well, most


Shannon Polson12:31

people that say they can't, or people who themselves have not done it. So I kind of have no time for this argument at all. And people who know better, or should know better, to do their research and and kind of get over it. So really, at the end of the day, what we want is a force that can perform. And if you want to force and this is whether you're in the corporate world, or whether you're in the military, you want a force that can be excellent, then you want every single human being to have the opportunity to contribute their best. And that's what I work with companies and organizations on today is how can you help every single person have the opportunity to contribute their absolute best effort? Because that's only going to result in the best end state for the company? Right? Or for the military in this case?


Amanda Huffman13:10

Yeah, exactly. So what was it like to go to pilot training and have the doors open from a limited area that you can be and now to every claim being available to you?


Shannon Polson13:24

I mean, the funny thing is, is coming from Alaska, we have this bumper sticker that some people have on their cars that say, Alaska is where men are men and women when the Iditarod and of course the Iditarod is 1000 mile dog fundraise, right? And women have won that. And it's not men versus I mean, it's just everybody's in the same field. So they didn't win for women, they won for everybody, because they were the best. And so the concept that men and women would somehow be dissimilar in their abilities to be excellent, honestly, was not a way that I had grown up or the environment that I had grown up in. So when I arrived at flight school, I would also say flight school is a very, you know, academic environment, schoolhouse environments are pretty accepting. And so arriving at Fort Rucker, Alabama, I didn't feel like there was a real challenge there. We had 30% women in my ROTC class that were all awesome. And we had probably, I don't know, I think we had 10% women in my flight school class. So I was aware that there were fewer of them. But I'd always grown up. You know, I was a tomboy. I did sports, I did debate. So I had been around a lot of guys, and I was very comfortable being outside and camping and doing all that kind of stuff, which is not the typical pilot thing to do. But I was comfortable with being around the guys. It wasn't a big deal for me. And I don't feel like in flight school, it was a big deal to be one of the women either even one of the women going through the Apache transition course or the scout track. It was new for them, but nobody made it a big deal. And and I won't pretend that it was easy for my career, because it wasn't that the academic schoolhouse environment is not where the challenges were.


Amanda Huffman14:55

Yeah, it's interesting because when you mentioned that When I was in the Air Force, I didn't know there weren't jobs that women could do, because in the Air Force, I mean, I think there were some, like specialized career fields that I couldn't do. But I had never wanted to do it. So no one told me no, but I, I feel like that change in 1993, change the Air Force, because almost every single job, whereas the army kind of stayed more segregated. And when I deployed with an infantry unit, I didn't even realize that there weren't women in that infantry unit. Right. And that I was like an exception. I didn't know that in 2010, because no one was talking about it. And so it's interesting how that perception and like you being in an academic environment, and just it being normal, because that was just you've always been a tomboy, hung out with guys. And, and you just did what you're supposed to do.


Shannon Polson15:50

Right. And I will say, like, as I wrote the grip factor, and you know, that was that was years of research also, and lots and lots of other leaders in the Vanguard's of their field. So they were across their their women leaders across the services, or general officers or aviators from World War Two to the present. And one of the first women Army Rangers and a combat rescue swimmer from the Coast Guard and a Navy Submariner and, and many, many more. And as they shared their stories, they were not all tomboys. Right? So I don't think it's also a good thing necessarily to even propagate the idea that everyone has to be a tomboy, if you're a woman in the military, because that wasn't the case. And many of them were highly successful. Were very lovely, very feminine women. And, and actually, I think tomboys can be perfectly feminine as well. So there's no one description of that. But I do think that those are the other things that start to become parts of those talking points that can be equally damaging is that women, okay? Women are in the military, but they fit this mold and like, No, they don't fit any mold, what they're, they're individuals, just like every individual that is serving is an individual, and then they come in and they are part of this larger military. cohesive unit, hopefully. So I think it's funny how we want to limit people so much.


Amanda Huffman17:00

Yeah, and I mean, the podcast is a great example of like, all different types of women. None of us. We don't look the same. We've served in different branches. We have different jobs, and there's so much possibility and for women, yeah, yes. Yeah, I, the Coast Guard story, the Coast Guard rescue swimmer, she's in the book, I read the book, so, but I really love that story. Because I love she was the one who like double train, right? Because she did something no one woman, and she was like, Well, if I have to do 10 pull ups, then I'm gonna do 20. Like, she's a bad.


Shannon Polson17:35

Right? Yeah. And it's worse, right? Like, you talked to the Rangers also, right? And I mean, there were tough and they got there, you know, one of them say, hey, not shaved by Aaron would talk about having washed out of the PT phase. And you know, it's not like she wasn't ready for it. But it's not like they count every pushup, right, they count very few of them. So if you could only do 72, you're probably not in in good shape, you better be able to do 102 or, or to get those 72 counted. So I think all of them were mostly aware of that. And by the time they got into those places, they were both well prepared from their own backgrounds and from the own rock that they did. And I think that their units often helped them to prepare as well, which is not to say that it wasn't unbelievably difficult, because I can only imagine but yeah, it's a pretty, pretty cool story.


Amanda Huffman18:20

Yeah, it just reminds me of like, when I was active duty, and like, I didn't know the minimum standards, I knew what the max for each, you know, event for the physical fitness test were. And it wasn't like, I just want to barely pass, I want to I want to pass a get 110%. 


Shannon Polson18:39

Right, I could max PT tests that I ever took in the army. And I thought that that was going to be one way that I could, I don't know, quote, unquote, fit in or like, be accepted. And what was so interesting is for the people that have problems with women serving, they're always going to find something right. And I served with some of the best people I will ever know. And some of the worst. And for those who are on the lower end of the scale, I remember I would max every PT test, and then they would say, Oh, well, all she cares about is PT. And I'm like, Oh, my God, you keep cannot win from losing, right? Like, there's no way to win I but I that still was the standard. I totally agree. I never knew what the minimum was. I only knew the max. And I only knew that I was going to make and surpass the max, because that's the point, right? And you show up and you make absolutely sure that there is no question about how you can perform it. And there's very little anyone can say really pressure.


Amanda Huffman19:30

Yeah. So you said that the academic part was pretty easy. It was a school type house. And so when you started to get out of the academic and actually into your role as a pilot, did it change?


Shannon Polson19:45

Yeah, I mean, I would say first of all, the academics were necessarily easy, but the schoolhouse environment in terms of integration was not, I don't think that was a big challenge. At least I didn't experience it that way. But when I got to my first unit, you know, it's a combat unit. It was 18th Airborne Corps, we were a core support unit. We're an Aviation Regiment, there were 120 guys and knee and I was 23 years old and, you know, relatively newly commissioned, just trained and, and I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into. And I don't think they knew what to do with me. And I wasn't entirely sure what to do with fun, and I have my hair cut really, really short. So nobody could say anything about me expecting to have other standards. And you know, I was just trying so hard to like, not give anybody anything to say about anything. Yeah, it was it was more of a challenge there. I think there were people that were nicer than they should have been, because they didn't know what to do. And there were people that were real jerks and. And there were people that were fine, that were just kind of my first battalion commander was excellent. My first platoon sergeant was incredible. And those were the people that really, I was very, really blessed to have a chance to work with in the sense that they really taught me what it meant to be a leader and what it meant to be a lieutenant and you learn from your platoon sergeant more than you learn from anyone else. But I was also grateful for that example of the battalion commander and to have those kinds of excellent role models, were was really a helpful way to be able to help to navigate some of those challenges.


Amanda Huffman21:11

Yeah, I think especially as a lieutenant because that first unit could have been a disaster with a bad commander. And I just would have made it a lot harder


Shannon Polson21:22

Well you certainly experience more bad than good, right over the course of a career. So I was glad to start out with with excellent examples. And you know, my second platoon I had a platoon sergeant who had wasn't a bad person, he had just been promoted much too quickly and was not ready to be a leader. And so actually, I took a put the second platoon as we were deployed to Bosnia, and another Battalion, so a whole different leadership structure, a really weak commander, very weak platoon sergeant. And I was just so grateful that I had started out knowing what those standards should look like. So that I knew that I could enforce those standards with a very different framework in the second platoon. And and yeah, that was that was just luck of the draw. And we all get those in different orders, I suppose. But you certainly learn as much from those who are excellent as those who are horrible. And hopefully you take the right learnings at the right times and in the right ways.


Amanda Huffman22:15

Right. Yeah. And that was a good segue, because I wanted to talk about your deployment, because a lot of people think that between like, the first Gulf War and 2001, there wasn't a lot going on in the military. But I've interviewed enough people to know there's a lot going on, and people just in the homes home station, didn't really know what was going on or weren't really paying attention. So let's talk about your deployment to Bosnia.


Shannon Polson22:40

Yeah. And I was in Bosnia and in Korea, and then in Kuwait for an exercise. So you know, the military doesn't slow down too much. Right. And then when there wasn't an appointment to be had, I had a battalion commander that sought out of deployments. And we went to the border in El Centro, California, so we could get the flight time. Right, which, which was the only way to get flight time because at that point, the military budget had been totally gutted. And we weren't able to fly for a month. So. So kudos to him for coming up with a creative way to, to find that. But yeah, so bosnia was the first real deployment after El Centro, California, that I that I had a chance to, to play for.


Amanda Huffman23:15

And what were you guys doing in Bosnia, and you talk about a story in your book? So I don't know if you want to, you can, like queue it up and then have people go get your book to get the rest of it. 


Shannon Polson23:28

Good, yeah, no, that's fair. When we It was 1997. And, and I was serving in third of the two to ninth attack aviation. It was a battalion level job, taking my first platoon after working as the assistant s3 for a year, and were the assistant to the assistant s3 to be fair as a lieutenant and then I transferred over because I requested the opportunity to go to Bosnia, our sister battalion had been selected, there was a platoon that was opened up, and I went to my battalion commander and requested the chance to deploy and you know, as a young lieutenant, all you want to do is go do your job that you've been trained to do and, and because our battalion hadn't been selected, I wanted to switch battalions, even though I thought my battalion commander was amazing. And the leadership was amazing. I wanted to have the actual experience. So I took another platoon that had already all been loaded up. So I had to do my inventories on the ground in Bosnia, in Germany, actually, and then, and as we flew down to Hungary, and then to Bosnia, that was the flight route, and then the convoy came down underneath. But our job was to support the Dayton Peace Accords as part of the NATO stabilization force. And although we were a core support asset that was typically trained, and we would train at Fort Bragg to do these huge battalion level or regimental level engagements, so lots and lots of helicopters, right, going along way over enemy lines for a deep attack, that was what we had trained for, then I doubt the army trains for that anymore, because that's not really what the environment looks like. But in Bosnia, our job was to Playing teams of two and two armed aerial reconnaissance. And so suddenly, we were doing a totally different mission, we had a hard deck of 300 feet, which was a really high altitude to fly in a tactical sort of a place where the war had just ended. But there were still hostilities, there was still a lot of provocation. And yeah, the story I started out with in the grip factor is one of those first missions. And we always flew at night, of course, because we can find your infrared better than anyone else can. And we were flying out towards a weapons storage site. And the idea is you fly out to those weapons storage sites as a team have to come to a high out of ground effect cover, because you can't break that hard deck of 300 feet, right. And then you do a video surveillance of the weapons storage, like the heavy weapons storage sites, so with the Serbs kept their heavy equipment, then we'd bring those tapes back to the military intelligence. So yeah, I'll just tee it up, which is to say that we came to this high out of ground effect, hover, right over this weapon storage site started to do that reconnaissance that we were going to have to bring back and the sound in our helmets suddenly changed. And we were being tracked by one of the most lethal anti aircraft systems in the world. And so, yeah, that would be the tip for you. But yeah, it was that there were certainly many, many times in that deployment to Bosnia and these peacekeeping operations, right, where there are things that are pretty tenuous, and they often don't make the news or sometimes you know, my, and we didn't have internet in the same way, we could type some emails, but you'd have to wait for a computer open is totally different than it is now. Wait for a satellite phone call, you get 15 minutes, and then they cut you off. But I remember my one of my, I think my dad sent me an article about a bomb exploding in Bosnia. And he's like, have you heard about this? And I was like, Oh, my gosh, well, first of all bombs explode every day, and you just don't hear about it. And secondly, yeah, we were flying Overwatch on that, right? So it was sort of this amazing thing to be like, Hey, we're part of history, but they don't really know it. But um, but it was a pretty amazing opportunity to be in this incredibly mission focused, mission centered environment flying all the time you get really, really good at your craft, you feel like you're making a difference, because it's a peacekeeping operation, right. And I was really fortunate in that my service spell in this time of peacekeeping, where deployments really did feel like they were without reservation, making a positive impact. And I think it's been much more difficult for people to feel confident about their work, and in the years that have followed 911. So I'm fortunate. 


Amanda Huffman27:29

I think while we were over there, we felt like we were doing the right thing. But then we came home, at least for me, because well, and even while we were over there, some of the times I was like, why are we doing stuff, but it's like, I went in 2010. And then they've, they've shot they've closed the door on Afghanistan in 2021. And like, what really changed in the 11 years since I left? I don't know. Yeah. And it'll be interesting to see what happens. Now that we're,


Shannon Polson27:57

It's a funny thing to now be a couple of decades out of having served, I literally got out almost two years ago, I have this some part of another book that I've written that I haven't pitched yet, but, and I might just try to publish part of it as an essay, which was the actual, you know, leaving in July of 2001. So right before September 11, right, and I would not have been able to get out. And I'd stayed in for just a couple of months longer. And I this two decades out perspective is very different than even even a decade out. Like I couldn't hear anybody say anything bad about the military. But now I listen to people say things that are kind of rose colored glasses, right? Like, well, they're serving their country, and we're, we're fighting for freedom. I'm like, you're not fighting for freedom. You're not fighting for look around. It's not fighting for freedom. We haven't fought for freedom for a long time. And I don't mean to be cynical about it, because I feel strongly about my service. And I feel hugely supportive of any of us who answer that call to serve our country. But I don't think the country's been fair to its service members. And, and that's on all of us, right. We vote people in who have been willing to spend lives for questionable ends. And yeah, I just think we should consider the lives of our young people sacred and make sure that we are making a difference, or are we don't spend those lights?


Amanda Huffman29:18

Yeah, that's a really good way to put it, because that's true. With the hindsight we can see, we're like, well, we don't really know. Yeah, it's been really interesting.


Shannon Polson29:28

Yeah, yeah. And having children now myself, you know, I'd be obviously very proud of them. If they decided to serve, I certainly will not encourage it, but I would support it because I think they need to make their own decisions on that. But I in the environment that I've seen in the last, you know, it's been since I've been out, I guess, but and seeing the willingness to send people in for really very amorphous or questionable ends, sometimes even problematic ends. I don't think that's worth sacrificing. My children's life for you know, and as a mom, I feel quite differently about it. So, World War Two was a whole different thing. But that's been a while. Right? Yeah. Oh, yeah, I hope we don't see another world war. But that will be a different sort of a thing if there was that kind of a dichotomy set up. But the whole good versus evil that but we haven't seen that since World War Two, I think we've tried to invent that. But we have not seen that. And I think we are for what the language that we use to make sure that, you know, pieces, this is the goal pieces is the end goal. And I remember, we used to say that you can best have peace by preparing for war. And now I question that a little bit right now, I will say, from this this perspective of 20 years out?


Amanda Huffman30:41

Yeah, there's a lot to think about. And I think that's one of the things that veterans can give the civilian community is we served in the military, we experienced war, or like you did the peacekeeping missions. And now, we see the world just from a different perspective. And I don't think enough veterans are talking about how we feel, or maybe civilians aren't listening. And it's probably a little bit of both. But I think it's important that we talk about that


Shannon Polson31:10

It is I mean, I think there are a vocal group of veterans who are very hawkish, and I think in some way, it's I attribute that to the fact that it's hard to find your identity when you transition out sometimes, right and the military, impose the sense of an identity and a purpose. So artificially, because that's how it works. That's how the military works. But to take that forward, once you've gone into civilian life, I don't think is responsible. And and I think we need to help the veteran community in making that transition and helping to say, Hey, guys, you served, you can be proud of that. It's time to now go serve in a different way. Is that not the answer, of course, is not the way to do it. There are many ways to do this, and four should always be the last resort. But I think we haven't helped people maybe with as much as they need to be helped in making that transition and understanding who they are outside of the uniform. Because life is big and wonderful, right? It's not just the uniform, it's not just about the military, that's not necessarily even the highest calling, I think my my calling as a parent is a much higher calling my calling as a creator is a much higher calling, as long as you are serving in a way that benefits the common good, right? I mean, I think we really need to come back around to what that means and what that conversation is, and, and helping veterans identify with their peaceful place in that. Because the people who are not peaceful are the ones who are making the news. And I think there's a lot of us who have other ideas that that we should probably be a little bit more vocal about. I agree.


Amanda Huffman32:41

Yeah. And I feel like the podcast, when I left the military, I felt like, Oh, I'm never gonna do anything so important. And then now I'm a writer and a podcaster. And I'm like, Well, what I was doing in the military, it was cool. I don't know if it was important. And now I feel like, I'm so passionate, and I love what I get to do. And I feel so lucky. Because I that transition, it took me like five years to find that. And I don't think people realize like, you have to find that next step. And it might take some time and a lot of digging to figure it out.


Shannon Polson33:15

And that that's okay. Right? Because Isn't it amazing to get to that place. But I will say it man that I was right there with you. I was I went to business school. As soon as I left the military, I had two years of full time Business School. And then I was working for a medical device company in Seattle. And I remember I was walking along Seattle on you know, like Washington, and I was having an apartment there and have my Starbucks latte. And I was talking to my dad who's now passed away. But um, I said, Dad, you know, I feel like, you know, nine elevens happen and they're, they're calling people back up. And maybe I should go back in because I was really good at my job. And it was still hard, right? I'd already gone through business school, I was working for a company and I was still thinking like, gosh, people are so superficial out here, it was just really hard to, to come into this different environment and make my own space. And that's what I wasn't seeing was that it was up to me to make my own space in the world. And to find a way to contribute meaningfully in the world. It wasn't about the army, it was about who Shannon supposed to be who's Amanda supposed to be in the world, right? And I remember my dad said, you know, you did your eight years, let somebody else do theirs. And, and he was so right. And I resigned actually my condition then because it was so likely to have been I would have been called back up. And I knew, you know, I wanted to have a family and I didn't want to do that in the military. And I didn't want to be deployed all the time, like everybody was and I got on to my graduate school education. And I knew I wanted to write, which is separate from business, obviously. But um, I really am passionate as well about making sure veterans know you have this incredible experience. And you can bring that with you into a whole new life that's going to be so much bigger and more interesting and more complex and in the military. It's so hard to see that and it does take quite a long time. It took me much longer than five years. So way to go and finding yours You're placed five years out. But I would say it took me at least 10 years to feel comfortable with really being in a different different place.


Amanda Huffman35:06

Yeah. I mean, it took me at least five years, and I'm still I'm still working through it. I'm kind of in this like wall because my husband's still in. So I'm still connected to the military community. And I'm waiting for that next transition when like, we're actually out. And we're not connected to the military anymore, because I think I think that will be like a second transition out of the military.


Shannon Polson35:27

Yes, yeah. No, you're absolutely right. Because you're still so connected to it, right? And that's something to be proud of, too. That's great. But just No, that's not where life ends at all. I mean, in fact, I think that's kind of where life began, honestly, in summary, and I'm very proud of that service. And you certainly play with the best toys you'll ever get to play with, right? Like, I'll never fly anything like the Apache again. And and I'm so grateful for that experience. And some of the people that I got to work with, uh, no, but, but But yeah, my life has only bloomed since then I think and through some travail, so just know that you'll get there. And you can find all different ways to serve. This world needs us in so many different capacities, and, frankly, more so in capacities that are not military, I think,


Amanda Huffman36:08

Yeah. And veterans are drawn, I think, to the military, because they want to serve. And so if you can take what drew you into the military and find it in civilian life, you're gonna have so much of an impact and yes, and change the world?


Shannon Polson36:20

Yeah. And it doesn't have to be the exact same thing. I mean, if you're really heavy into operations, great, that's awesome. I mean, everything I did was operational. And I really bought into this idea, which was, which was very near sighted on my part in the military, that the only thing that mattered was battalion level operations. And And honestly, if I'd been able to get out of my own way there and get out of my, I mean, that ridiculous mindset, I might have even stayed in longer. I, you know, possibly because I would have seen there's so many other opportunities within the military. But, but I didn't. And so then once you get out, and you realize, okay, I'm working in a technology company, how do I and I wasn't feeling that sense of purpose in that in that work, either. But I realized I had a whole team of people, right. I mean, it wasn't just about doing a great job on the mission at the technology company, which I was doing, but it was about taking care of and developing those people. And I had an amazing background in having been passionate about that in the military. So that's that taking care of people in developing teams by itself, no matter what the end state of that team work is right? Or of that organization, or that company is pretty exciting. And you realize that's where the meaning always was anyway, right was in your team and your people in your platoon. Not in the Apache. I mean, that was cool. But But at the end of the day, it was in the people and so reconnecting to that place of what really mattered, like at the heart of things, I think is a great way to say hey, you can do any kind of work in the civilian community and still be able to contribute in this incredibly needed and meaningful way where you're taking care of people because that that kind of leadership is in short supply. And so that's a real competitive advantage. If you can find your passion like you have done like I have done outside of that. All the better.


Amanda Huffman37:59

Yeah. So we kind of skipped over the end of your military career. Do you want to go back and talk about going to Korea or anything else from your time in before you got out?


Shannon Polson38:09

Yeah, sure. I've been if just if it's if it's of interest, I came back from Bosnia, I was the battalion s one then which I never wanted to be because women were always the personnel officer. So I was determined to not be whatever women were always assigned to be. But there was no other role for me as a captain for six months, because I've just been promoted. So I took over the s one shop. And, and I will say that just with any position that you take on, you can seek out the opportunity is to blow it out of the water, right, and the one shot the records were a mess, that and we basically just cleaned house and requested an ID inspection and, and just blew it out of the water in that in that 676 month period. So no matter what your job is, you can excel. So that's a good thing to remember in and out of the military. I went to the military intelligence officer advanced course not back to Fort Rucker, and in part because my grandmother was ill. She lived in Phoenix and I wanted to be closer to her. I was also just sort of fed up with some of the aviation stuff at that point. So that was a whole different sort of an environment to be in. It was actually one of the best years of my life was being down in Sierra Vista was awesome, great, great class of people, but also just a great environment to mountain bike and get outside and do some of the stuff that I really love to do. And then I went to Korea, which was my absolute last choice on the planet. I was assigned to the second infantry division as part of one two aviation I think they're now out of Joint Base Lewis McChord. But at the time, they were at Camp Paige. So about 10 kilometers south of the DMZ of northeastern part of Korea, we were the most forward deployed a patchy battalion on the peninsula, which meant that we knew that we were in the sights for the first artillery attack if there was ever an attack with North Korea. I will say it was the flying was awesome and I was able to take command there and then we drew down for Apache longbow. So it was a short lived command, but the flying was amazing and and some of the missions were amazing. And there was definitely the sense of urgency that again, the rest of the country certainly did not have any understanding of at all, because you're flying the border all the time. Right. And you are getting, they're getting tracked with radar on the border of Korea, which is even more nerve wracking than getting tracked Bosnia, and an even more secretive in some regards back then. So yeah, there was this sense of, of really doing something that was meaningful. I will say, this is an interesting transition point, an inflection point, because I took my month of leaving Korea, and I went to China and to Australia. So I did, I was single, so I didn't need to go home or have anywhere to go. And I just wanted to travel and adventure. So I went to Australia for a week and learn to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef, which was phenomenal. And then went to three weeks to China with this women's Australian women's adventure travel group. And I bring all this up because it was stuff that I love to do, I wanted to do. And I came back to camp page. And suddenly, the Quonset huts in the 1960s block buildings, it just seemed like, it just killed my Spirit to come back to it. Like I just, I was not happy to be there. And I knew I was gonna get out at that point, you know, I was in command, I didn't see anybody senior to me working in a way or having a life that I wanted to live. And so I requested to extend my time in Korea to get out and I was rejected. So they sent me back to Fort Bliss. That was a big mess. And I did my last year at Fort Bliss, Texas at an Echelon above corps headquarters, a 32nd double am DC. And I don't know if that's still there, but it was a one star command. And we deployed every other month at from Fort Bliss to, you know, back to Korea, to Louisiana, to Kuwait to like, to Colorado to all these places for these multinational exercises, which in retrospect, was kind of cool. But I was so done at that point, you know, I was I was just done. And I applied to business school, from Kuwait, sending my application DHL from Kuwait on the last day of the last round of admissions to the top business school in the country. And there was no reason I should have gotten in. And I am so grateful that I did. And at the same time, you know, the army was bleeding captains and the one star I was working for who I had a lot of respect for, and said, hey, what can what can we do to keep you in? I said, and I just figured there's no way this is going to happen. So I said, a second command in the cab at Fort Carson, followed by a foreign area officer assignment. And of course, when the general officer asks you, what can we do to keep you in, they will get you those orders. And so I got my acceptance to Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth at the same day as my orders came to Fort Carson. And I had to go to that general and say, sir, I'm not going to accept these, I'm going to get out. And he was not happy with me. And I understand that. But I realized at that point that I wanted to have more control over my life. And that general wasn't always going to be there. And that was a big part of that decision to get out was just not feeling like I had a lot of control over who I was and what I was doing. And I was ready to move on at that point.


Amanda Huffman43:04

Yeah, you're like, no, it's time to go. It's time to go. Yeah, yeah. And thinking of you had stayed was September 11. happening, all that stuff he had planned probably would have worked out anyways, and your life would have been totally different.


Shannon Polson43:19

Exactly. Yes. I mean, that's the thing, right? It's always going to be needs of the army. And honestly, again, short of world war two type scenario, I don't think the needs of the army are more important to me. And when you get to that point, it's time to go, right? I mean, you have to be all button on all that, or it's time to do something else. And, and I had served, I'd served honorably, and well, and, and it was time to move on and serve in another way. And I looked for many different ways to serve, and I'll never stop looking for ways to serve. It's just part of who I am. And I'm grateful for that.


Amanda Huffman43:48

Yeah. So you went into the corporate world, but you said you didn't really find that like purpose. And so you became an author? And how did that all happen? 


Shannon Polson43:59

So I, people ask, sometimes they say, how did you write my first book is called North of Hope. It's not The Grit Factor, right? This is my second book, North of Hope, came about because I was working at Microsoft and worked in the medical device company. And then I moved over to Microsoft. And my father and my stepmother were killed in an accident in northeast Alaska in the Arctic, but they were killed by a grizzly bear actually, while they were sleeping in their tent on a kayaking trip. And so my whole life sort of came shattering down around me. And I knew at that point, I mean, I'd always known that I wanted to write. And I actually started a Master's of divinity program while I was at Microsoft, and then left that program to start an MFA program, all of which is somewhat superfluous, honestly, to the fact that I've always written I mean, I was an English major, but before that, I was always writing and I've been writing I was writing all through the army and so it's not a change. It wasn't like some new thing. It was just a continuation of what I've always done and and always knew that I was going to do. So I finally left Microsoft to write northa Pope. It's something that takes some significant time and focus and energy. And as all your writers know, and it's what I've always wanted to do. And then I started to speak again, because north of Hope is a pretty personal memoir. It certainly has a lot of grit in it, but it's not the military focused, right. It's it's Arctic, Alaska, and in my story with my dad. So I love the business world, too. And I love operations. And I love working with people. And so I started to do presentations on narrative and storytelling to organizations. And that took off really, and now I do a lot of presentations on leadership and grit. I have a whole training company called the grip institute that does leadership, facilitation and leadership training and corporate groups and organizations, because I love that stuff. And the grip factor then came about naturally, several years after North the Pope was published, because a young lieutenant reached out to me and said, Hey, would you be my mentor? And I said, Sure. And then I realized, gosh, it's been forever since I've worn the uniform, I went to the corporate world, I integrated into this all male field, which was kind of unique. So how do I bring her a lot of different perspectives, not just my own, which is limited by who I am, and also my own experience. And that's what I started what was this blog that was the grip project that became the grip factor, and it was interviewing women in the Vanguard's of their fields, right leaders in the Vanguard's of their fields. And I realized, at some point, I had a whole bunch of senior officers across the services. So I needed to start talking to some more junior officers and my I do have a couple of regrets, I would have loved to have had some more noncommissioned officers included in this as well. But that would be part of the work of the next one, I think. But yeah, and the grit factor came out of synthesizing the stories that were told the lessons learned from this incredible cohort of leaders. And then doing the background research as well that supporting secondary research in leadership and management and grit and resilience and and then coming up with a tactical takeaways that could be applied to an individual or to an organization. And so I'm absolutely thrilled that Harvard Business Review publishing picked up the grip factor, it's been a, they've been an amazing partner and continue to be, and that it's out in the world to serve whoever it is that that needs to read this at this time. And whether they're starting out or transitioning to change or challenge. It's really for anybody who is facing those sorts of those sorts of obstacles and that kind of change. So I'm grateful for the chance to take those passions of writing and speaking and be able to deliver what again, feels like service to me, it's sort of what I owe back right to those who are starting out or going through some of the same things that I went through some time ago now.


Amanda Huffman47:32

Yeah, and one of my favorite parts is at the end of each chapter, there's questions that go along with what the chapter was about, and that the questions were so deep, and really good to help you if you were like just starting out, or if you're going through a transition or whatever your life circumstances and where you're trying to focus. And so it's not just a book of stories. It's also those questions that are really impactful.


Shannon Polson47:59

Yes, thank you. And that was important to me, I and it's actually interesting, I started to do and I should talk to you about this too. But I've been talking to people about the different ways that we bring these stories forward. And for me, it was not about writing a bunch of biographies, which can be very beneficial, right. But that's not where I work. That's not the spaces I work in. So I wanted to synthesize the stories instead of giving you, you know, 36 different stories all lined up in different chapters. It's synthesizing the lessons learned that come from those stories. So the lessons really are what lead you through what I now think of as the grit triad, which is commit learning launch, right, it's deep commitment to the past and understanding and owning your past. It's deep engagement in the present. And then it's looking towards the future with audacity, authenticity and adaptability. So it's the concepts that drive the book forward. But it absolutely is as rich as it is, and and powerful as it is because these people have shared their stories so incredibly generously. And you know, women don't tend to share their stories as much. And it's really important for us to have them out there and to be not just willing to share our own but just like you're doing right, bring out these other stories, make sure they're accessible, and then say, what do we learn from those? And how can you take those lessons and apply them to your own life. So I think we're doing that in many different ways. Jerry Bell is a historian as you know, that there's a lot of historical work in this in this arena. Phyllis Wilson is doing this with the women's memorial in DC there's a lot of different ways to bring these stories to bear and to make them relevant to different communities in the civilian world as well. And that's that's really important. So for me I wanted to cross over and not just be speaking to veterans which is wonderful and important group but saying hey, these are stories that civilians can benefit from and by the way, they will then appreciate some of the service that's been done and and that should help other veterans transition out when they're in that space as well.


Amanda Huffman49:46

Yeah, and it's it's a really good book in so many different stories and leadership lessons and and the questions I really like the questions, which is funny because I hate the questions at the end of the chapter.


Shannon Polson49:58

Really part of the plan. I'm just So glad you said that because I keep hearing this again. And then again. And it's honestly what led me because they were so impactful for so many people, that the grit Institute and the training going for grit, which is at the grit Institute calm, you can take it online yourself, or you can reach out to me and I can tailor some training where I lead people through it for an organization. But either way, it is going deeper into some of those questions, and really, really exploring them and spending the time with them. That is an investment in yourself as a leader that every single one of us really needs to do if we're going to be able to lead others, or lead through challenge or change. And so that's some, it's been a fun thing to understand that that has been a wonderful way to bring that into readers lives. And I'm so glad to hear you say that.


Amanda Huffman50:42

Yeah. So thank you so much for being a guest on the podcast. I have one last question, which is what advice would you give to young women who are considering military service?


Shannon Polson50:55

Read the Grit Factor I wrote it for you. I mean, actually, in some, some, some seriousness, I really would, I would read The Grit Factor. And I would read the stories of other other women who have served, it doesn't mean that you can't learn from men, but it is helpful to have that perspective. The other thing I would say, though, and I'm gonna get specifically into chapter one of the factors, so you can start out nice and easy, is you want to go in understanding who you are, like do the work to understand your own story, and connect to your own values. Because there are times when you're going to be put in places where those values can be compromised. And and I will tell you, from my own experience, that the times when I have compromised my own values are the times that I regret the most deeply that I will always regret. And so you want to really have identified those and hold on to those tightly. And then I think you're, you're ready to go forth and serve and keep that grip factor with you keep your other resources with you keep your podcast nearby and, and you'll have those stories of the strength to draw from as well as you go into the adventure that lies ahead. So I just wish them all the best.


Amanda Huffman52:02

Yeah. And I'll have a link to The Grit Factor, the book and what was the grit factor initiative?


Shannon Polson52:09

Thegritinstitute.com Yeah, exactly. And they can access the training at thegritInstitute.com, and I'd love that love to have seen the training.


Amanda Huffman52:15

Yeah. So thank you so much. And I'm just glad we got to do this interview. Thanks, Amanda. Great to talk with you. Thank you for listening to this week's episode of women of the military podcast. Do you love all things women on the military podcast become a subscriber so you never miss an episode and consider leaving a review. It really helps people find the podcast and helps the podcast to grow. Are you still listening? You could be a part of the mission of telling the stories of military women by joining me on patreon@patreon.com slash women of the military or you can order my book women of the military on Amazon. Every dollar helps to continue the work I am doing. Are you a business owner? Do you want to get your product or service in front of the women of the military podcast audience get in touch with a woman of the military podcast team to learn more. All the links on how you can support women in the military podcast are located in the show notes. Thanks again for listening and for your support.