WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. --
Female members of the 509th Security Forces Squadron are woven into the defender mission at Whiteman Air Force Base – but this wasn’t always the case.
Lt. Col. Justin Secrest, the 509th Bomb Wing director of staff, started his Air Force career as a security specialist three years after women began serving in the career field.
“It took our service from 1971 through 1985 to fully integrate women into all aspects of service as a Defender,” he said. “There is no doubt it made us better. Because of the integration there are some incredibly dedicated people serving who otherwise our service would have missed out on.”
In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re recognizing the female defenders who make up just a fraction of the SFS manning at Whiteman, but touch every part of the mission. They protect weapons assets, enforce the law, handle military working dogs and many other critical things in between, just as their male counterparts do.
Just over a handful of those women sit in senior leadership positions throughout one of the base’s largest squadrons: three lieutenants, one senior master sergeant and a master sergeant.
1st Lt. Jennifer Blanton, assistant operations officer assigned to the 509th SFS for the last two years, said all she ever wanted was to be a security forces officer.
“I chose it because I wanted to be with Airmen and I knew that choosing Security Forces would give me the highest chance of doing that,” she said.
Blanton said she enjoys engaging and training with her Airmen on a daily basis.
“Joining security forces is the best, most important thing I’ve done with my life,” she said.
Blanton works closely, as a team, with Senior Master Sgt. Mary Trent, the operations superintendent, and Master Sgt. Tory Wagner, the noncommissioned officer in charge of operations. They advise, guide and support Blanton in her role.
“I have amazing senior NCOs,” she said. “Senior Trent and Sgt. Wagner are, by far, some of the strongest I’ve ever met. I feel blessed that I have these women to be around, to learn from.”
As the 509th SFS operations superintendent, Trent is responsible for all security and law enforcement operations at Whiteman, not to mention the several hundred SFS Airmen who make those missions happen.
“To be honest, I like it,” said Trent. “It’s a lot of work, a lot of juggling and long hours, but I get a lot of satisfaction from taking care of troops.”
Trent, who has served as a defender for more than 22 years, is also a single mother. She acknowledged a particular struggle women face while trying to maintain a military career.
“For many mothers, they’re deciding if they should stay in or if they should start a family,” said Trent. “For many, it is an either-or situation.”
She described one of her many motivations for fighting to strike a balance between the two roles in her own life.
“It’s important that younger females see that kind of role model at my level,” she said. “They need to know that they can be here one day."
Staff Sgt. Nicolette Sheridan, the only female military working dog (MWD) handler
stationed at Whiteman AFB, is partnered with 4-year-old MWD, Gucci. Together,
they help ensure the safety of the base.
How long have you been within the SFS at Whiteman?
I have been a part of Team Whiteman since September of 2017.
Have there been any challenges you’ve overcome as a female defender?
Since I’m standing tall at 5 feet 5inches, the biggest challenge was proving to myself and anyone else that I am strong enough.
What is the best part of being a defender and what does it mean to you?
The bonds created with my coworkers are unlike anything in the civilian world. I have made some of the best friends at work that I know I will have for life.
How would you describe the camaraderie and sorority amongst female defenders?
We protect our own. Either you show up strong-willed and ready to work, or we help build you into someone who can handle the stressors of this career field.