Two Airmen from Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, reached major Air Force milestones as reservists with the 315th Airlift Wing.
Senior Airman Sydney Lewandowski became Wing Phoenix Raven’s first female security force, and Senior Airman Destiny Cooper became the Wing’s first female combat arms instructor for Wing Security.
Lewandowski finished her training in March and, according to her, being the first is always a top priority.
âOne of my main motivations for becoming the Phoenix Raven was to be the first woman on our base to accomplish it,â said Lewandowski, who serves with the 315th Security Forces Squadron. “I always wanted to be the tough girl, I always want to be the alpha.”
Lewandowski began her journey in the Air Force in December 2018 and balances being a student at the College of Charleston, as well as a part-time job, in addition to her involvement in the Air Force Reserve.
Almost two years after starting her Reserve career as a member of the security forces with the Wing, Lewandowski decided that she would embark on the challenge of becoming the first female Phoenix Raven of the 315th.
The Phoenix Raven program, implemented in 1997, consists of teams of specially trained security forces dedicated to the safety of Air Mobility Command aircraft transiting areas of high terrorist and criminal threat.
Lewandowski said she still enjoys being the toughest person in the room, and the physical and mental challenges of becoming a Phoenix Raven haven’t deterred her from taking the challenge at all.
âAt the start of training I thought it would be more demanding physically than mentally,â said Lewandowski. “While it turned out to be physically demanding, it turned out to challenge me a lot more mentally than I was prepared for.”
While Lewandowski said she still had to overcome the stigma attached to being a woman and a member of the security forces on the reserve, that didn’t stop her from reaching her true potential at all.
âMost people don’t know what to say when they find out that I am a woman and that I am part of the security forces,â Lewandowski said. “They really don’t know what to say when they find out I’m a Raven and what the Ravens are doing.”
Cooper shared a similar path to Lewandowski’s in terms of career field. Cooper joined the Air Force Reserve in August 2017 and decided that after being trained as a Security Forces Specialist, she would go on to become the first female combat arms instructor with the wing.
Cooper, who graduated from the Combat Weapons Instructor Course in July 2020, said she believes anything is possible with a positive mental attitude.
âNo one on the civilian side believes me when I tell them I’m an Air Force weapons instructor,â said Cooper, who also serves with the 315th Security Forces Squadron. “When they see a short woman, they automatically disqualify me for this type of job.”
Cooper, who is also currently a student, would like to become an officer in the future. She said she didn’t let the stigma of being a woman and a combat arms instructor stop her efforts to further her career.
âThe biggest hurdles to overcome were the mental barriers and the stigma placed around the job and being the first grassroots woman to do it, so there is a big standard,â Cooper said. “All eyes were on me and I knew I couldn’t ruin everything, so I tried hard and graduated as a Distinguished Graduate.”
Cooper said her impact was immediately felt in her squadron and that she knew she had set the bar high for those who followed her.
âNow we have another woman coming in to fight guns, and she told me that I was one of the reasons she continued her career,â Cooper said. “It was a wake-up call, but also motivating for other people to watch what I do and it motivates them to step out of their comfort zone and achieve whatever they want to accomplish.”
Lewandowski and Cooper both said they never let social norms or stigma prevent them from achieving their goals in the Air Force.
âI don’t think you can ever let a stigma or a perception stop you from chasing your dreams,â Lewandowski said. âYou can do whatever you can think of. Â»# ResilientReserve
(Brugge is assigned to the public affairs office of the 315th Airlift Wing.)