Heroes among us: Retired female faces unique challenges in service

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Cortney Paxton
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
Editor's note: This is part three of a series highlighting the experiences of past military service members.

Women have had a long history in the military, dating back to 1948; however, life in the military didn't always prove to be easy for the females serving their country.

Tech. Sgt. (ret.) Joanne Bratten, 341st Missile Wing Information Security chief, joined the Air Force in 1985 to prove herself as one of the first female security police members to be accepted back into the service.

"I didn't have a job coming out of high school," said Bratten. "I was going to go to college, but I couldn't afford it so I decided to join the Air Force and my recruiter said I could be one of the first security police females to come back in. I believe it was 1979 when they closed [the career field to females] because women couldn't adapt to it. They opened the career field back up in March, 1985, and I joined in September, so I was one of the first to come back in to it. They had females for law enforcement but they didn't have females for security."

Bratten's decision to join the military was one several people in her family made. She grew up as an "Army brat," she said, as her father served in the Army while she was young, and her brother was serving in the Air Force when she decided to join. According to Bratten, her brother, who was an aircraft mechanic, had the biggest impact on her decision to join because she was able to visit him at the bases he was stationed at.

Only a few months after the security police career field opened back up to women, Bratten was on her way to Basic Military Training. Following BMT, she attended M-60 school and then Camp Bullis, Texas, where she learned air-base ground defense skills. She was then sent to her first duty station at Kunsan Air Base in South Korea. She showed up to the base only hours after the first female security police member did. It was there that she experienced something she'll never forget.

"It was my first night on flight and I was going out to check these Vulcan cannons - they were run by the Koreans; my supervisor and I went out," she said. "We had someone jump the fence; we weren't sure if it was a Korean or a military member but we were going to check it out. I ran up in an area that I didn't know I couldn't go into and the South Koreans pointed a gun at me. I was stuck there until my supervisor who spoke fluent Korean could get me out of the situation."

Throughout her military career, Bratten was able to visit several different places throughout the United States and the world. She was only in Korea for a year before she was sent to her next duty station in Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D. After her time in South Dakota, she got stationed at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, for seven years and was then sent to North Dakota to serve at Minot AFB. She was then sent to Malmstrom AFB where she retired from active-duty service in 2005.

Although she personally elected to travel, there were things she sacrificed being so far away from friends and family.

"I sacrificed [seeing] family members, holidays and not being able to be there for funerals and stuff like that - things you couldn't get back to," she said. "The military has a lot to offer, but you have to be willing to take upon the offerings that it has. I chose to branch off from where I lived. Serving and traveling made me feel like I gave something back to our country."

Bratten took full advantage of what the military had to offer her as she waited to start a family until after she had served 16 years. Those 16 years quickly turned into 20 and allowed Bratten to finally achieve one of the goals she set before she came in.

"I came in wanting to do 20 years," she said. "I had the ability to go in and prove to myself that I could be one of the first to retire as a security police female. There were times when I wanted to give up, but it was something that I started so I wanted to finish it. I completed something - just like completing elementary school to high school, I completed my 20 years."

Although she had a goal and set out to reach it, there were times that being a female security police member proved to be tougher than she thought.

"The hardest obstacle to overcome was being a female back in the new career field," Bratten admitted. "I got called inappropriate names and there was harassment, but at that time, I wasn't given the guidance from my supervisors on how to report anything. Also, some of the older [noncommissioned officers] didn't adapt to women coming back into the career field. We had to prove ourselves more than [women] would today. I made sure that I didn't take any slack. I knew I had to come into the new career field and prove myself, so I carried my own weapons, [machine gun and grenade launcher], ammunition and ruck sack. I didn't want to be catered to and say 'I can't do it.' I held my own."

Bratten spent 20 years proving that women are capable of serving as Airmen in the now security forces career field. Her hard work and determination as one of the first females back in the career field helped play a part in the continuation of females in those positions. She, along with other unwavering females, helped single-handedly save the reputations of security forces women throughout the Air Force. Her perseverance gave her a strong mindset and allowed her to continue through any obstacles, and she has words of advice for anyone who may be looking down.

"Go for what you want - be true to yourself and accomplish what you set out to accomplish," she said. "Be the best that you can no matter if it makes someone happy or mad."