Airman of the Year talks being a woman in the Air Force

  • Published
  • By Erinn Callahan
  • 21st Space Wing Public Affairs

Independence and hard work have come in handy for Senior Airman Mary Czarnecki during her time in the Air Force, resulting in her earning the 21st Space Wing Airman of the Year award in February 2019.

The 21st Medical Group aerospace physiology technician thanks her mother – who pursued a bachelor’s degree in nursing when Czarnecki was 13 – for those traits.

“She showed me the value of, ‘Never stop learning and never stop improving yourself,’ Czarnecki said. “With basic things like, ‘Oh, you have a school project coming up? You need to start it sooner than the night before,’ or, ‘You’re 16 now, let’s learn how to fill out job applications.’ She guided me while making me do it.”

Czarnecki, 28, decided to enlist in 2016 after researching career options for her kinesiology degree from Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan.

“The Air Force popped up and the more I researched it, the more I realized this is what I wanted to do,” she said. “I’ve gotten a lot of, ‘No,’ in my civilian life, or, ‘You can’t do this,’ or, ‘That’s too expensive,’ or, ‘You don’t qualify.’

“But here in the Air Force, I feel like there’s been a lot of doors that have opened up for me and a lot of different paths I can take.”

As an aerospace physiology technician, Czarnecki trains flyers, parachutists, cadets, almost anybody who touches an aircraft about the dangers of altitude and how to counteract those dangers, she said. While her age and background have provided some advantages in her line of work, she feels she has learned just as much from the younger Airmen as they have from her.

“That life experience set me up for success, but I still needed to learn how to follow and how to be part of a flight,” Czarnecki said. “I definitely have mentors here who have guided me through the hard times.”

Aside from the Airman of the Year honor, Czarnecki’s greatest accomplishment is being able to submit an application for aerospace physiology officer, which she completed in September 2018.
“Just being prepared and able to submit that package is a huge feat, especially for someone who has only been in for two years,” Czarnecki said.

Czarnecki’s advice for younger women looking to join the Air Force is simple, “Just go for it.”

“You’re going to face a lot of obstacles – whether that be the fact that you’re lower ranking or the fact that you are a woman – but the more perseverance you have, the further you’re going to get,” she said. “Don’t let those hard times stop you from doing what you want to do.”