Women of the Military

Weapons System Officer in the Air Force - Episode 71

Episode Summary

Vanessa is a Weapons System Officer in the Air Force Reserves. She left active duty when her daughter was born as a dual military, dual service made being stationed together a challenge. In this interview, she talked about the importance of finding your voice and how she helped and helps other find their voice today.

Episode Notes

This episode is sponsored by Ashleigh Magee Coaching. you'd like to learn more, send Ashleigh an email to admin@AshleighMaGee.com 


Vanessa served in the US Air Force on active duty for 10 years as a Weapons System Officer/Electronic Warfare Officer in the F-15E Strike Eagle. She completed back to back deployments supporting Operation Enduring Freedom and flew over 100 combat missions. She also flew with the Navy in the EA-6B Prowler. Currently she is serving in the Air Force Reserves and owns her own fitness and health coaching business. She is also a motivational speaker with a group called Athena's Voice, work part time at the local CrossFit gym is a mom of two (six  and eight) and a military spouse.


Vanessa started looking into Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) so that she could go to college farther away from her hometown. She received a four-year scholarship with a major in Meteorology. But she considered Combat Weather, but many of the roles within the career field were off limits to women so that discouraged her from applying. She thought it would be fun to fly in jets, but with bad vision she knew becoming a pilot wasn’t an option so took a strike navigator spot.

As well as she did in ROTC, flight school did not come naturally and she had to work really hard to graduate. Classes didn’t click the way she hoped and she also felt a lot of pressure being one of very few females to perform well. Then she had an unexplained medical issue. Where pressure would build up randomly in her head during take off and make it hard to perform her duties. She powered through the pain and with different aircraft had less issues and it began happening it less and she was always able to perform her duties when it did.

She was able to get through flight school and training and ended up in the 335th Fighter Squadron. She was one of two females, but had a great tribe of people to support her through. When she deployed, she ended up being the only female aircrew on that deployment.  Her first deployment was in 2008. There was a lot of training after flight school to prepare for the deployment and as tactics and strategies changed the training would continue to change and expand. She said if you are done with school after graduating and don’t want to continue learning then being a Weapon System Officer isn’t for you.

She arrived in Afghanistan in January and it was cold and there wasn’t a lot of fighting going on, but as the weather got warmer so did the action on the ground and their role in the sky. Some missions there was nothing significant to report and others had a lot more going on. She had so many great stories from her experience and some sobering moments. 

One of the challenges she faced was being assaulted by an instructor. She didn’t report it for fear of rumors and feeling like it would be an added pressure. So she stuffed it down deep inside of her and kept pressing forward. She made it to graduation and graduated #3 of 13 and got her top pick for her aircraft. They were at the bar celebrating. She was sober because she had her guard up from when she was assaulted and had wanted to be the watcher to protect herself and others. One of the instructors flipped her zipper on her flight suit near her chest and she kept a calm face, but inside she was angry. Upset that he thought it was okay to touch her, but once again she didn’t say anything. 

But she made a promise that she wouldn’t be silent the next time and that also led to her to start to speak up for women when things were said about them when they were not there. When a new woman came to the squadron there would always be rumors and people knew that they were coming and when. So, she would speak up for the woman and be her voice before she even arrived. When she had a job interviewing cadet at the Academy, she would always tell young women after the interview was over that they don’t have to do things because someone out ranks you, or intimidates you. “You can always say no.”

She met her husband during flight school. He was in the Navy and they dated for a few years before getting married. It was challenging to be stationed at different bases, but the did actually have their deployments overlap in Afghanistan and got to run mission together and spend time together. When she had children and was given a new assignment away from her husband she decided to switch from active duty to Reserves. This allowed her to continue to serve in the military while also having the flexibility to take care of her children and support her husband. 

Connect with Vanessa:

Athena’s Voice

Related Episodes:

Palace Chase to Active Duty: Episode 69

When Public Affairs Changed: Episode 67

Giving Back After Service: Episode 56

Episode Transcription

Amanda Huffman  0:00  

Welcome to Episode 72 of the women of the military podcast this week my guest is Vanessa siren ma Han she served in the Air Force as a weapon system officer, which I learned about because even though I served in the Air Force, I don't know a lot about the flying side though it was really interesting to hear her experience and I loved how she talked about how the military gave her confidence and a firm foundation to kind of break out of her shell and to serve in the military for 10 years and and now be a speaker and run her own business helping people in their fitness journey. So it's another great episode and I can't wait for you to listen.  


You are listening to the women of the military podcast where we share the stories of female servicemembers and how the military touch their lives. I'm your host, military veteran military spouse and mom, Amanda Huffman. My goal is to find the heart of the story and uncover issues 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 of the military. Vanessa served in the US Air Force I'm active duty for 10 years as a weapon system officer, electronic warfare officer and the F 15E Strike Eagle shooting completed back to back deployments supporting Operation Enduring Freedom and flew over 100 combat missions. She also flew with the Navy in the EA-6 B Prowler. Currently she is serving in the Air Force reserves and she also owns her own fitness and health coaching business. She is a motivational speaker with a group called Athena's voice works part time at the local CrossFit gym and is a mom of two and a military spouse.  


Welcome to the show. I'm excited to hear about your experience.  


Vanessa Mahan  1:52  

Thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here.


Amanda Huffman  1:54  

Let's start with why did you decide to join the Air Force


Vanessa Mahan  1:58  

In a simple short answer. It was for the money. And by that, I mean, I needed a scholarship to attend a university that wasn't super close to my home. I wanted to go away to school. And so I thought a military scholarship would be my best chance. And it's exactly what happened. I got a four year scholarship for meteorology at Purdue University.


Amanda Huffman  2:21  

So did you you had to apply for the scholarship when you were a senior? How did that process go?


Vanessa Mahan  2:27  

Yeah. So senior year a recruiter comes in and starts talking about the Air Force. And I went and saw him as you do when you're a senior in the colleges come by and enter the people recruiting come by and I liked what he was saying. I have a lot of family members, my dad, uncle, grandparents that served in the military, so it kind of seemed like the good path loss. I had really no idea what I wanted to do with my life. You know, I grew up with my sister who knew at the age four, she was going to be a veterinarian, and for me, it was careers change all the time, depending on I guess my age for a while, I wanted to be a hairdresser. And then I wanted to be a shrink. And then I just had no idea. So military seemed like a good path to go on.


Amanda Huffman  3:12  

Did you do ROTC?  


Vanessa Mahan  3:14  

I did.  


Amanda Huffman  3:15  

And when I was doing ROTC, if you got a four year you got like a year where you could try it out. Did you have a similar type of commitment? Or?


Vanessa Mahan  3:24  

We did. So you have your first year, basically? Well, I guess that first, yeah, the first year where you could try it out. And there was a time where right before school started, I almost backed out because it was like, Ah, what am I getting myself into? Is this something that I really want to do? I almost backed out and I didn't take the scholarship, but I decided, well, if anything, I'll get that free year. And then turns out I loved it, every single bit of it and decided to stick with it still am.


Amanda Huffman  3:52  

That's what I like about ROTC is the Reserve Officer Training Corps program is that you can have that flexibility of trying it out. And maybe it makes the military seem less scary. But for me, it was the same thing. I was a little iffy on if this was the right thing. But then once I started, I was like, Oh, this is where I need to be. This is what? You know, everything fit and I really liked it. Yeah, you kind of find your tribe. Yeah, exactly. What was the process of at the end of ROTC, you start to pick your job. So what did you end up?


Vanessa Mahan  4:26  

What What did you end up doing? So my, my major was in meteorology, and I did not like that major at all. I was toying with the idea of joining combat weather, but I think at the time, they weren't allowing women to jump and do all the fun things that combat weather folks could do. And so I decided it would be super awesome to fly jets. My eyes were so bad and that's before they approve prk. So corrective eye surgery and so the next best thing was to take a strike navigator slot and I did. And so I ended up getting bad and then being sent to Naval Air Station Pensacola for training. So we did some joint training with the Navy down there.


Amanda Huffman  5:08  

That's really cool. And what year was it? Thatall that happened?  


Vanessa Mahan  5:13  

Oh, gosh. So I graduated college in December of 2002. Yes, I just dated myself.


Amanda Huffman  5:21  

Sorry, I graduated high school in 2002. So you're not that much, okay. But when I interview people who are much younger than me, I'm like, Oh, I'm so old. So women had been allowed to be in the fighter community for about 10 years then. Right?  


Vanessa Mahan  5:39  

That's right. Yep.  


Amanda Huffman  5:40  

What was it like to be in that community and go through the training?


Vanessa Mahan  5:46  

Well, flight school was a mix of a lot of different backgrounds, from maybe aircraft to Air Force aircraft. So it was a joint training environment. I will say that is as awesome as I did in ROTC. I did felt so not awesome in flight school was really hard for me. I think it was a lot of self induced stress where I felt like I had to perform as good if not better than my male counterparts to show that I did belong there and I earned that slot. It wasn't just given to me. I wasn't just there to fill a quota. And then it wasn't, it didn't click as well all the flight training academics didn't click as well as I had hoped either. So that was a struggle. And then I had a medical issue that was unexplained it was they ended up coining the term or calling it a station to dysfunction basically, anytime on randomly not even if I was sick or anything randomly on takeoff or landing. I would get so much pressure built up in my eardrums that my head felt like it was gonna explode. So that was very distracting during flights where you're graded and you're supposed to perform. So made it very cheap. lunging to get through. I ended up being what they call de nip for a while. That's duties not to include flying. I received some treatments. I ended up having surgery, I was trying to do all these things to alleviate that random pain that I would get because I just I needed to I needed to finish flight school. I was in college when 911 happened, and you know, right then you just want to go and help and fight terrorism. But I knew I had to I needed to finish college, so I had to wait a little bit. And when I went to flight school, I knew that I wanted to fly in combat and I wanted to support our troops as they were out there fighting terrorism on the ground. I wanted to fight it in the skies, and it was really hard to get through flight school with all that stuff happening and at that time, the military was also overmanned so they were letting people leave military with no requirement to pay back the scholarship. So I had an out an easy out. But I, I just couldn't do it. I had finished high school, I was going to go to combat, no matter how much my head hurt. And so eventually, I got my wings.


Amanda Huffman  8:12  

Was the surgery able to get rid of that problem?


Vanessa Mahan  8:15  

No, I think it helped a little bit. But I just not that I encourage people to do this, but I just kind of powered through the pain. And, you know, different airplanes affected it differently, I think via their pressurization schedule, and what kind of oxygen system that they had on board also affected it, but I just kind of powered through the pain and eventually, it seemed to get better. And then every once in a while it would rear its ugly head again. But that's, you know, I think why or the benefit of being in the backseat, being goose. So I didn't have control of the airplane. So if it did happen, it wasn't like, No, I have to fly and land the plane as well. So I was I was a blessing and I actually Did not get the pilot slot that I was the backseater. So you finally were able to get your wings. And then what happened next, next we go to your combat aircraft. And first you start in a Training Squadron and you train and then you end up in your combat Squadron and I was in the 35th Fighter Squadron, we were the chiefs and they were just an awesome group of folks, you know, talking about finding your tribe. They were great. It was mostly men that I worked with. There was one other female air crew there, but when we deployed I ended up being the only no air crew on that deployment. But still, you know, they were my bros. Brothers and and I felt like I fit in and they they treated me equally and you know, they they kind of knew not to mess with me, but we would, you know, sass each other and a professional brother sister kind of way so it was great. Love them. That's awesome.


Amanda Huffman  9:55  

How quickly after you completed all your training did you head out on your deployment?


Vanessa Mahan  10:01  

So I got my wings in 2005 and I deployed in 2008. So it felt like too long, but it was still nice still, even after you get to your combat aircraft, you still have to do work ups and train for the actual deployment. Because we we work on closer support during OEF and aren't Overwatch, there's a lot of training that needs to be done before you can go they call it to spinning up.


Amanda Huffman  10:25  

Do you think that the trainings done when you get your wings but there's still more training to do? It is never done?


Vanessa Mahan  10:32  

Right? We're always training always learning tactics. I mean, yeah, this is it's a profession where if you are tired of school or you're tired of learning, that job is not for you.


Amanda Huffman  10:44  

That's good to know. I think people need to know that if they're going to go into it that there's a lot of learning and a lot of change. They continually happens that you have to keep working and learning.  


Vanessa Mahan  10:54  



Amanda Huffman  10:55  

What was your deployment like you said in the bio that you went on over 100 combat mission so is it pretty high ops tempo?  


Vanessa Mahan  11:03  

So I got there in January. And so genuine Afghanistan's in Bagram anyways was cold and snowing. So things were a little bit quiter than maybe you would expect. But as the winter turns to spring, the spring turns the summer we kind of joke that the hotter the weather, the more intense fighting there would be. So that's kind of exactly what would what happened was, as we started getting close to the summer, there were more fights more engagements, you know, it was more active. Yeah. So start off slow and, and kind of ramped up from there.


Amanda Huffman  11:41  

Do you have any memories or missions that you remember that you could share with us?


Vanessa Mahan  11:46  

Oh, sure. I have lots you know, that there were missions where we would brief and go out and it would be absolutely quiet and it was something that we would call NSTR which means nothing significant to report. And then there were some missions where we would come back Winchester, which means we only had guns left on our airplane, all of our bombs were gone. And then there are some missions where we wouldn't go kinetic at all, but that vividly stick out in my mind because because the, the reactions that we have from the troops are on the ground. So one example of that would be we were called civil support this convoy that had been out for a multi day mission, and they were heading back to their isolated base somewhere in Afghanistan. So they were if you can imagine, just beat up dirty, tired, they were, you know, hit multiple times ambush. And they basically were just bad loss of motivation, which you can you know, that's very justifiable. And so we're overhead and we're just circling around or using our sensors and we're looking ahead at the console and making sure there's not people planting IEDs or just kind of searching around making sure any potential ambush sites are clear plus the sound of our jets usually make people scatter. So you as you can imagine to, you know, you hear a sigh of relief come over the convoy as we're, you know, armed overwatch and we're protecting overhead so that jet noise really comes in handy sometimes, but we don't have unlimited fuel and there was a point where we did have to leave them and you feel so bad, you know, we're pretty safe in the cockpit. And personally, I just I felt terrible leaving those those guys and cows all the time because, you know, they still had miles to go before getting to their base. And we decided as a crew that we were going to try to pump them up a little bit so we we asked him if we could do a low pass over the convoy and they said Oh, yes. So we we drove down. We originally started probably about 18,000 feet and we go down to about 1000 feet above the ground. And we came up from behind, so to speak, and flew right over the convoy rocking our wings. And as you can imagine, that's a lot of a lot of sound, but also the sound of freedom. And every guy that had a radio seemed to get on the radio. And we were just here cheering now we told them to be safe. And we heard the resounding WILCOs throughout the line that the cowboy it was just so great to hear. And it just stuck with me and felt so good that you know, we could just do whatever we could, which was using our loud sounds to make them feel better and to maybe Pep them up a little bit so they can make it to their base.


Amanda Huffman  14:42  

And now we're in from our sponsor,


Ashleigh  14:45  

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Amanda Huffman  15:13  

Let's get back to the show.  


Yeah, that's a really cool story. I was on a lot of convoys when I was in Afghanistan. And whenever we had like, close air support, I was like, Oh, we don't have to worry about anything. Because Yeah. So


Vanessa Mahan  15:26  

yeah, it was, it was great. And, you know, people love to hear the stories of us dropping bombs. And those can be exciting too. But that was a case of, you know, the non kinetic but still just really exciting. And I will say that, you know, some of the missions where we'd go out and this is where like the guilty feelings come in of deployment where you are sent to a tick, which is a troops in contact and you just can't get there fast enough. Or, you know, you you have another mission that goes wrong and you know, stuff just happens and Don't know what do you ever do you ever experienced the fallen comrade ceremony?


Amanda Huffman  16:04  

I was really fortunate and we didn't have anyone on our team that was lost.


Vanessa Mahan  16:09  

That's That's great. We I can't tell you how many fallen comrade ceremonies I went to not more people in my Squadron, but it was just something that base would do, we'd all line up on Disney and the coffins would pass by as they were getting loaded onto the aircraft that takes that would take them back to the US and it was just the worst feeling thing the coffins go by. Because for me, you know, I put again a lot of the self induced pressure that I felt because I felt like I let them down like it was my fault that I couldn't get my aircraft there fast enough to protect them to save them from anything and it's just that was that was the hardest part of deployment is feeling like you failed because couldn't get your jet fast enough to the location They needed you and you couldn't be that loud sound to scare away the bad guys from hurting your your people.


Amanda Huffman  17:07  

Yeah, I we went to Bagram a lot for like refueling and whatever to do some missions out of Bagram but I never was there when that was happening but I can imagine that would be so moving. I was on a tiny fog so we only had there was the French and then like 100 American troops, so it wasn't a lot of people. And you mentioned Disney, which people might be like, What is she talking about? But Disney is the main it's like a two mile road in Bagram where the main the main drive where the DFAC is and some of the housing and where a lot of the main work spaces are. So just imagine of all the people standing there and watching that would be really hard


Vanessa Mahan  17:49  

It was


Amanda Huffman  17:51  

So did you face any other challenges while serving in the military?


Vanessa Mahan  17:55  

Oh boy. Can of worms lets open them. I did. So going back to flight school. You know, one of the other thing or another challenges that I faced was an assault by an instructor. And it was, you know, as a 23 year old, I thought it was going to happen to me, like, Are you kidding me? And if you can picture I, you know, this is my 23 year old brain, like I am not petite. I'm not small. I'm very strong, physically tall. I'm a bit of a, you know, she beast, if you will. And so I thought, that would never happen to me. Nobody would even think about it. And so when it did happen, it caught me completely off guard. And I was devastated from that. I, first of all, I couldn't believe that my tribe would someone in my tribe would do that to me. I never told anyone because again, I felt like You know, I didn't want to stick out anymore. I didn't know if people would believe me. I didn't know if they would think that I was just saying this because I wanted to pass or, you know, whatever the reasons are, you tend to do a lot of self talking and self judging and, and it was, it sucked when we say that, but, you know, I just kind of felt like, I would keep it to myself, but I wasn't going to. Again, I wasn't going to quit. I was going to just keep going. I was dating a guy at the time. And so I told him, and the first thing he said, this is really bad. The first thing he said to me after I told him what had happened was what were you wearing and that crushed me to like One it shouldn't matter into, I had just gotten done with a long flight and so, you know, jeans and a sweatshirt, right? Like nothing, that regardless, that shouldn't even matter, but that was his reaction. Later he apologized and he said he was just angry, like, okay, but I felt like I felt ashamed. I guess to that that happened. It was really hard. It just, I mean, it was terrible. It It took an already difficult situation. And it just slammed me against the ground and I hit rock bottom.  


Amanda Huffman  20:41  

Do you think the way that he reacted kind of further and still the fact that you didn't want to report it because he kind of validated the negative self talk that you are already telling yourself and then you do?  


Vanessa Mahan  20:54  

yeah, for sure. You know, we have a saying in the Air Force or I guess all of aviation or try to fly under the radar. And that was me, like, I already felt like I stuck out enough as it was, and I didn't need something else like this, to make it worse, and you know, you'd hear rumors of students and instructors, either hooking up or getting special treatments or whatever, and I just did not want to be that person at all, whether those rumors were true or not, you know, my brain thought, Oh, those are definitely true. And I didn't want to be that person. And at the same time the Academy was going through their sexual assaults, issues that they were having that was publicly broadcast and I'm like, Oh, my God, I can't be another number. Like I'm just gonna bury this and move on. And, and so I did, you know, I shoved it and down, deep down as I could. And I moved on, I moved out of that Squadron and never talked, never looked at them again. He wasn't even one of my instructors. He was in the other aircraft. But I just moved on, ignored him, went to another Squadron and tie a quick story this Squadron, it was after we got our aircraft, I think it was and so they, they do this big ceremony where, you know, you, you give your top choices of the airplanes that you want and then at the ceremony, they tell you what you got. And I was super pumped up because I got my first choice and for the record is as bad as I make myself sound pompous podcast during flight school, I ended up graduating like three out of 13 in my class, so I wasn't a terrible was Oh, by any means I just, you know, a lot of that self pressure that want to excel and be the best that we can be. So anyways, at at this night, you know, we're at the squadron bar and there's a few of us left. We're counting And drinking, having a good time. But I'm not I, you know, still sober. Because after what happened before I decided that, you know, I would absolutely limit the amount of beverages and I'd rather just be the watcher, if you will. Anyways, so we're had this thing and, and again, another instructor turns to me and we're wearing flight suits. So flight suit if you can picture it has zippers everywhere, which is awesome, right? You can put stuff in those pockets, well, there's some zippers that go right down your chest, and they call them speed breaks. So my speed breaks, the end of the zipper was sticking out and this which lands right by my chest, and the instructor flicks my zipper and says speed break out. And on the outside, I kept a very stoic face. And then the inside I was a volcano that was exploding with rage for the fact that he thought that was okay. And I was so angry. But again, I didn't say anything, because I was so close to being done, and I just had to get out of there. But I remember going to my car and sitting there and making a deal with myself that I would never let anything like that happen to me. Again, regardless of whether I felt like I was going to get in trouble or stand out or cause more paperwork, or whatever the case may be like, Nope, never again. That's it. And so I did, I made that promise to myself. And that promise eventually expanded beyond myself and I started saying things when people would say stuff about other females. So you know, Military, we're a minority, right? There's, there's not a whole lot of women in the military anyways. And so when one does show up, you know, you often hear that a chick was coming to the squadron like you knew you knew when they were coming, because there's so few of them. And sometimes people like to talk rumors and, and like, Oh, so and so did this. And regardless, it doesn't matter. And so I would start, you know, sticking up to them saying, Well, how do you know that's true? Where'd you hear that from? And just trying to give these gals the benefit of the doubt or at least a clean slate or whatever, you know, and stick up for them. And it just kind of continued on and I would do my best to, you know, make sure that didn't happen to anybody else because it was not okay. To the point where later on in my career I became for a few years I did interviews for the Air Force Academy. And after the interview was over, or you know, we were all done, I would look at the young lady and say something like, you never have to do anything. Because somebody outranks you, or somebody, your instructor always can say, No matter what, and you can always call me and I will help you like you don't have to. You don't have to let people walk over you or do something to you. You don't want to be done.


Amanda Huffman  26:33  

Yeah, that's really important. And that's you took something that was really horrible and you made it into something that you could have a positive impact in impact those who step behind you just when you were sharing the story. I was like, Oh, yeah, whenever a new girl even and I was in civil engineering, a new girl showed up. There'll be all kinds of rumors and stories and I never really thought about that, but it's true. Like it didn't matter where you are. Because we are women are not as common in the military. And when they showed up there would be all these stories. I know even imagine what people said about me.


Vanessa Mahan  27:11  

Yeah, exactly. And it's like, Okay, can we just stop? Shut it please like, give him a chance? Give me a chance, you know, though. Yeah, I was. And that's, you know, unfortunately, or fortunately, that's one of the topics that I talked about with the thing this voice is, is that assault that happened and the more I share it, the more it amazes me that it's not just women, you know, and it's not just military. It's meant to and I am shocked by the amount of men that tell me that they were assaulted to I just couldn't believe it. I mean, it's unfortunate, it really is. But I think that's one of the reasons that I decided to talk about this and it took me took me 15 years to talk about this 15 years. So it's only been recently that I I've been sharing this story because I don't want it to happen to other people. And I have my own kids now, I have a son, I have a daughter. And you know, before these, these men started telling me it happened to them. I was I was really only thinking of my daughter, like, I don't want this to happen to her at all. Like, I will destroy anyone that does that to her. Right, that protective mother thing, but then I started thinking about my son, it's like, Oh, geez, well, I will. It will destroy anyone that does anything like that to him. But let's let's even back it up and not continue this destroying of people part. Let's get to the we're gonna stop this from happening because it's just, it's not okay. All right.


Amanda Huffman  28:39  

Yeah, I have two boys. And I think it's so important that you're speaking out because like that, then other people have the confidence to speak out and share their experience and we can't know what we don't know, unless people are brave enough to speak up and then it encourages other people to share their experiences. So yeah, and in the bio you mentioned that you're a military spouse. So I'm curious about how you met your husband.


Vanessa Mahan  29:05  

Remember that boyfriend that I talked about the one that was asked, oh, what are you wearing? What were you wearing?


Yeah, I married that guy.


But so it is, you know, it is a happy middle, we'll call it middle because it's not an ending to that story. But, you know, later he apologized. He's like, I was just mad. He's like, that was not okay for me to say, he's like, I will help you. You know what, I will help you get through this. And he did. And he was a rock and he was so supportive, and that has never changed. And so I met him in flight school. He was a Navy guy, and that was not what I wanted out of flight school. But we we ended up dating and David for a very long time, and we ended up getting married in 2007. So right before my deployment, and and we've been we've been together and he's been just An amazing husband and as hard as hard as it is to be married to another military member, let alone a different service member. It's been it's been good. It's been an adventure for us. We've had our highs and lows just like any marriage during my deployment 2008 he came out with his squadron several months into my deployment. And so I got to see him there, which was more than I saw him in us because I was stationed on the east coast. He was stationed on the west coast, and so we never saw each other. And so it was actually kind of nice that we saw each other there and it was kind of a joke in both of our squadrons. That was our our home of residence. That's where we lived together. Even though we technically did not live together on Bodrum. We were stationed there at the same time, we had our one year anniversary there, which was great, and we even got to fly some missions together. So in the same stack, if you will, so different altitudes, but we got to fly on the same piece of sky and help out some of the same missions. Stop me. Awesome.


Amanda Huffman  31:01  

Yeah, that's really cool. And so you guys got married and you did your deployments. And you guys got to see each other in Afghanistan. And then at what point did you decide to switch from active duty to the reserves.


Vanessa Mahan  31:16  

So after my deployment, I had an opportunity to take an assignment to where he was stationed. And they had a small squadron of Air Force folks that we could fly in the Prowler with the Navy. So it was, I think, the Air Force's way to kind of get to the electronic warfare world. So naturally, that was now the perfect assignment that we could both be stationed at the same base. But lo and behold, turns out when you live with your husband, life happens, you can't really stop it. So I remember I was doing workups for my upcoming deployment, and I was carrier based, which is also very interesting for an airport person. I never thought I'd be on carrier I have mad respect for carrier operations now because that is a pretty intense place, but I just had this weird feeling. And like I couldn't quite shake it. And it turns out that I was pregnant. And it was an unplanned pregnancy. And I was devastated. I remember you know, I I tried never to cry in uniform. However, it does happen sometimes. And I feel like that was one of those times so scared to tell my Skipper that I was pregnant and I wasn't crying, but I sure felt like it. And so he was so awesome about it, though. He, I think had three daughters of his own. And he's like, you know, siren, he's like, this is a good thing. And I'm like, Okay, this is a good thing, but I felt like a 16 year old telling my dad I pregnant because I know that takes away you know, from their numbers and their Manning. And he was just so awesome about it and I will never forget that. It turned out to be Good thing and I was scared, I was not ready to be a mom yet. So I, I remained on active duty for a bit after my son was born, I ended up staying on MTV for a little bit longer having a second child. And while I was pregnant with number two, that was when I had to make the decision to either stay in or go into the reserves, and kids can definitely throw you off the vector that you think you're on. For sure. You know, I planned that I was going to be a squadron commander, and I was gonna have this great 20 year active duty career and be with my husband the whole time, right? Like all these lofty dreams, but when I got my assignment, I was given something out of state away from my husband, and here I am about to have two kids and so it was a really tough decision. You know, do I stay in the military, take my kids with me hire a full time nanny because you know, that's what you need, right being a single parent in the military. With two babies, there's no other way to do it. We have my husband, and then we just, you know, kind of do that do the long distance thing, or do I get out and be with my husband while he's around and raise my two kids. And you know, being a stay at home mom did not appeal to me at all. It really scared me toughest job ever, by the way. Because I still felt like I was called to serve. And so the reserves for me was was the answer. And so I applied and I got a job and, and it's been awesome that I've been able to continue my military career. I still got promoted, which is great. I felt so blessed to get promoted in the reserves. You know, I get to wear so many hats. Now. I get to be a mom and I got to be with my kids and watch them take their first steps where my husband missed that stuff because he was on a 10 month deployment. I get to be in the recession. And wear that hat and still serve. And, you know, for better for worse, leave my kids for a few weeks with my husband, which I like to call mommy appreciation time. And enjoy, you know, being an adult and and zipping up the flight suit again, wearing a uniform. And then on top of that I get to be a small business owner and get to explore that realm and empower that passion that I've had for so long of training people in turn helping people become healthier and stronger. And it's just it's been a blessing. And I never thought that this would be the path that I would be on. But as it turned out great and I'm super proud of my family and, and all the things that we've done together.


Amanda Huffman  35:51  

That's really cool. And that's awesome that you are able to continue to serve through the reserves and be there for your family because especially Dual military I feel like when you're both in and you're not you don't have kids, it's inconvenient to be separated. But you both understand what you're going through and why you're doing what you do. And so it makes it it makes the inconveniences I guess worth it or easy, easier to overcome. But when we had kids, it was kind of like, Ah, this feels really complicated. Like you said, when you get stationed separated, you have to have a full time nanny to take care of your kids.


Vanessa Mahan  36:29  

Yeah, it's it's weird how kids complicate things are so, so small, but so complicated.  


Amanda Huffman  36:35  

That's really true. That's really true. Well, I've really loved getting to hear more of your story. And it's just been really powerful. And thank you for being so honest and willing to share those hard experiences. I think that people will learn from it and they can either have the bravery to stand up and share their story or if they're struggling now they know that there's someone they can talk to if they need to. Great. Yep. And my last question is, what would you tell young women who are considering joining the military?  


Vanessa Mahan  37:09  

I would say go for it. I think it's an amazing experience opportunity. You can learn so much. And it's just such a small community, you kind of feel sometimes, like you're part of a cool club, being in the military, and that if you do join, you know, that I, I hope that nobody ever experiences whether male or female, you know, what I went through and the assaults, but don't ever feel like you can't say anything to somebody. And then always let your work speak for itself. So no matter what your job is, even if you're an airman basic, and you have to scrub toilets while you scrub those toilets, and make them the shiny as they've ever been, like, always do your best. Always try to learn something new. Never, never stop, never quit, never give up. And if you want something bad enough? Go for it and just realize that no, you are part of an awesome team, a team that, you know is stronger when people work together.


Amanda Huffman  38:11  

That's great advice. And thank you again, I really appreciated that you took time out of your busy schedule to talk to me and to share your story. So thank you.


Vanessa Mahan  38:22  

Absolutely. Amanda, thanks so much for having me on. I love your podcast. And I love the fact that you have this tool to share so many stories of women veterans, with the world. It's amazing. It's great. People need to hear these stories, because some people can tell some pretty good stories and appreciate what you're doing. Awesome.  


Amanda Huffman  38:44  

Thank you for listening to this episode of women of the military. Make sure to subscribe so you don't miss any of the amazing stories I have with women who have served in our military. Did you love the show? Don't forget to leave a review. Finally. If you are a woman who has served or is currently serving in the military, please email me at airman to mom@gmail.com so I can set you up to be on a future episode of women of the military.


Transcribed by https://otter.ai