In one of “those chairs”

The family of Senior Airman Ericka A. Woolever, 31st Fighter Wing Public affairs photojournalist at Aviano Air Base, Italy, poses for a picture. (Courtesy Photo)

The family of Senior Airman Ericka A. Woolever, 31st Fighter Wing Public affairs photojournalist at Aviano Air Base, Italy, poses for a picture. (Courtesy Photo)

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy --

The stage was dressed in a dark blue curtain, the flags stood tall and three brown chairs sat on each side of them.  

The room was still. Guests sat in rows of white chairs before the stage, and I stood in the back thinking of the various ways I would capture this event. I knew my normal photos wouldn’t be possible; there would be no first salute, no passing of the guidon or shaking hands.  

As I visualized how I would take the perfect picture, a firm voice came from the far-left corner.  

“Room, stand by.” 

All guests quickly jumped to their feet. 

“Room, ten-hut.” 

Their fists balled tightly to their side; heads faced forward as the official party arrived.  

In this room of about a dozen of the highest ranking, senior leaders of the wing, not one guest looked like me. 

I was the only woman in the room. 

Due to COVID-19, the guest list was cut by at least 85 percent. Maybe I didn’t notice it before, because the crowd for events like these were usually massive. I never really noticed who sat in “those chairs.”  

But that day was different, and I noticed, and I didn’t like it. 

I didn’t like it for one reason: growing up I was told I could be anything I wanted. Being the oldest to 15 cousins who are all women, I have always made it a goal to be the example. I am living proof that anything is possible. I was the first one to graduate college, and the first one to join the military. Yet for a split second, I had doubt – doubt that I could ever be sitting in those chairs. 

But I refused to let that doubt settle in because I am not intimidated by a challenge, even if that challenge is, “you can’t be what you can’t see.” Although, I didn’t see a woman in one of those chairs, I knew I wasn’t going to let it stop me from making it my reality.

I will continue to set the path for those that will come after me, because I am a leader, wingman and military woman.