“Servicewomen on the Front Lines: Amanda Huffman”
Tell me briefly about your background. Where did you grow up?
“I grew up in Fresno, California. Although we only moved one time, I went to 6 different schools before I graduated high school. My parents were trying to do the best for me, and my education and the area we grew up in was not known as a good school district. When I was born, neither of my parents had graduated college. My mom got her degree when I was in elementary school, and my dad started his own business as a Gardner. Growing up on days off from school my sister and I would work with him raking leaves and trimming bushes. He always told us if we didn’t want to do his job when we grew up, we should go to college. I have no military experience in my family besides the fact my grandfather served during World War 2, and my Great Uncle served during Vietnam. But no one ever talked about the military growing up.”
Why did you join the military? Who or what led you to that decision?
“September 11th happened my senior year of high school. It was one of the first times in my life I remember realizing the military existed outside of the wars I had learned about. My parents had jokingly suggested I join the military as I seemed to have no real direction on what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t think that was a good idea until my freshman year of college a bunch of the friends I met were either enlisting or doing officer training programs. I also had a friend who was in the Reserves, and he was being activated to deploy. The information I learned through these friends piqued my interest, and I started to look into enlisting into the Air National Guard to get money for school and serve. While going through this process, a friend told me about Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) Program and how he would one day be an officer. A program where you could go to school and then graduate as an officer sounded like something, I wanted to do so I stopped the process of joining the Guard and decided to join the Air Force ROTC program instead.”
What was your job in the Air Force? What type of training did you have to undergo to be certified for that position?
“My degree is in Civil Engineering. When I graduated from college and commissioned into the Air Force, I picked Civil Engineering as my career field. Most of the training I received was by going out with the different enlisted troops on base to see what a Civil Engineer Squadron did. I also had six weeks of Civil Engineer Officer School in Ohio followed by one week in Florida working at a Bare Base Training location called Silver Flag. There we were able to get hands-on experience with all the different training pieces we learned about in the classroom ranging from runway repair to going into a smokehouse to retrieve a body. ”
Who are some of the airmen and women you worked with that had an impact on your service?
“Before leaving for Afghanistan my commander, Lieutenant Colonel Knutson, gave me the best advice. I’m pretty sure he was worried about me. I was about to go on this crazy adventure with the Army, and I was a shy and timid. He said: ‘When you come to a great chasm in life, jump, it really isn’t that far’. I took this advice to heart, and I literally repeated it in my head every time I found myself doing something I didn’t actually want to do. And through the experience of deploying, I learned that it really isn’t that far. I could have easily hidden on base or gone on minimal missions, but I knew that I had signed up to serve the military and do my job and I had to do it. I had to jump.”
“I was also lucky enough to be teamed up with another female engineer when I deployed to Afghanistan. She was there for all the hard times of the deployment. I do not know how I would have gotten through the deployment without her advice, mentorship, and friendship. We are still friends to this day. We have different views on pretty much everything, but the bond created through the deployment experience allows us to have open and honest conversations. I have learned so much from her.”
What are some of the challenges facing women in the military today? What are some of the opportunities?
“Not being recognized for the work women are doing. We are continually fighting stereotypes and misunderstandings about how women fit into the military structure.”
“I served on the front lines with an Army infantry unit during my deployment in 2010. Even though I had joined the Air Force, it didn’t stop me from being sent on the front lines or from serving with the Army. I received my Combat Action Medal for my deployment experience. Women were not allowed to serve in combat units until 2013. When you google articles about women in combat people act as if women just starting to serve in this capacity. But women have been serving on the front lines for years. It feels like no one recognizes that we have done it and done it well. So well, in fact, the military changed their stance on if women could serve in combat units. But still, people doubt our value.”
“On the positive side, we also have the ability to share our stories like we have never had before. More and more women are able to share their experience and help break the stereotypes of what it means to be an American Servicewoman. I recently launched a podcast, Women of the Military, to give women a place to share their story on a different platform. I have loved hearing the different experiences women have gone through in the military. They encourage and inspire me to keep sharing their stories.”
When you hear the term leader who is the first person that comes to mind? Why?
“I already mentioned my commander Lieutenant Colonel Knutson. He was my second commander and really cared about the young officers in the unit. The first commander I had in the Air Force took little interest in us and didn’t work to help us achieve anything. Lieutenant Colonel Knutson had a much different approach. And even though he was technically my boss for less than six months, it had a profound impact on who I am today.”
What taste, touch, or smell symbolizes the Air Force to you?
“The American flag.”
What would you tell other women who are thinking about joining the military?
“Do it. You can do so much more than you think you can do. I never expected to be running convoys with the Army in Afghanistan, but I did, and I am forever grateful for everything I learned from the experience. Another thing I would tell women is to have your guard up. Don’t be naïve and trust everyone you meet. There are a lot of good people in the military, but there are also people that you shouldn’t trust. Be careful, but also know you will make lifelong friends.”
What should the average civilian know about the military?
“Women serve right alongside men.”
Describe to me your most memorable experience in uniform.
“When I was going through deployment training, we had to do rollover training. This meant we got all our gear on, strapped ourselves into a Humvee and got to experience what it would be like to roll over in a car. Our car ended up being flipped upside down and at first, I truly panicked. When I tried to push myself up with one arm and unlatch my seat belt, I couldn’t do it. I had all these thoughts telling me I couldn’t do it. I think I thought if I just waited long enough someone would do it for me. But there wasn’t any way anyone could get to me. And when I realized I had to be the one to do it, I finally got the inner strength and got out of my seat-belt and out of the vehicle. I think this stands out in my mind because when we got to Afghanistan, I had to go through rollover training again. This time it was a piece of cake. I knew I could do it and I had a confidence that helped me get through my deployment and all the challenges to come. I knew that self-doubt would limit me from my full potential and it has been a memory that has stayed with me to this day.”
If you could give the next generation of leaders in this country, civilian or military, one piece of advice what would it be?
“Growing requires sacrifice. Sometimes the hardest things that you go through in life are the places you grow the most. Don’t let hard work and having to stretch beyond what you normally would do stop you from growing and learning about yourself and others around you.”
“I also think that we are more alike than different. I wish we would work together and focus on the things we have in common instead of trying to ‘win’ at politics. No one wins when it is one-sided. When we work together, we can do so much more.”