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Joint Base Andrews News

NEWS | March 2, 2022

WHO AM I…

By Col. Stefanie M. Watkins Nance 316th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron commander

I am a fourth-generation black American who joined the Air Force to continue honoring my family's legacy; more than 30 family members have served in the United States Armed Forces, across all branches.

Truth be told, my military journey started when my great grandfather, Robert Watkins, who was a runaway slave, fled Lynchburg, Va. to join the U.S. Colored Troops. My grandfather, Arthur Watkins, an Army World War II veteran, and my beloved father, Gordon Watkins, an Air Force Korean War veteran, followed his lead. Now I, along with my younger cousins, continue their charge. We are a family of service members, and carry the values required to serve well, as our elders have instilled in us.

Military service is a family business for us. I serve to protect our country from outside threats so we can continue to enjoy life as we know it, including the privileges that citizens of many other countries do not have. We all should know “freedom is not free.” I serve to give my children and my grandchildren, as well as your children and grandchildren, a better future.

Ever since I can remember, I always wanted to become a doctor. As a physician, I am dedicated to serving the community by partnering with my patients to ensure they remain as healthy as they can be. I joined the military and spent my first eight active duty years in a clinical role as a pediatrician. I cared for patients, some of whom were born to young mothers while their husbands were deployed. As I comforted the mothers and told them I understood how they felt, I truly did because my first child was born while my Marine Corps husband was deployed to Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf. I loved caring for our military children and assured our members as they deployed that their children would be well taken care of. This was my way to support the fight on the battlefield...giving parents peace of mind so that they could concentrate on their deployed duties. 

Over the past 17 years, the Air Force has afforded me the flexibility to grow by selecting me for a myriad of dynamic positions. I deployed as part of a Peruvian Earthquake relief mission and treated malaria in Ghana. I also flew on a B-1 Bomber and was a consultant for an innovative Bomber Task Force model. Additionally, I quarantined more than 1,000 military members in an unprecedented global pandemic. Furthermore, I had the opportunity to lead my squadron’s response to Operation Allies Welcome in the Air Force’s largest airlift mission for 586 Afghans and 571 wounded patients. On the morning of the 20th Anniversary of September 11th, around the same time that the first Twin Tower fell in 2001, I watched the first pediatric life flight from Joint Base Andrews in 15 years, providing an Afghan infant’s only chance of survival. That image continues to refuel this New Yorker’s resiliency. I will never forget. All of these experiences taught important lessons which groomed me into the professional I am today. I stand ready.

I am proud to be a black military member who has the privilege of having a seat at the “table.” Even with my strong personality, there are times when I find being the only one in the room a bit daunting…just for a brief moment.  I feel a strong sense of duty to represent the opinions of military members of color who aren’t in a position to do so, and to mentor those who seek my guidance. It is ingrained in me that I have to be exemplary, just to be considered as an equal. I need to be the example, because a misstep for me may result in more egregious consequences than my peers. These factors come with the added pressure that weighs heavily on my shoulders at times. I, however, welcome this role wholeheartedly because it is a position that affords me the opportunity to drive much-needed change. There are times I have felt supported and recognized, but also times that I have felt devalued and misunderstood. I wish I could tell you that I have never felt as if I was treated differently because of my ethnicity or gender, but I can’t because it wouldn’t be true.

As a black woman in the military, my hope is that all women in the military will continue to drive the necessary changes that would allow them to receive fair and equal treatment, including all opportunities afforded to men. We are stronger together, so I would encourage them to support each other fiercely and empower each other regularly. I am hopeful that they recognize their great value and order their steps such that they can climb as high as they can imagine on the professional military ladder. I encourage them to go after positions women have never held before and not to shy away from becoming “firsts” in a particular field or area of study, just because it hasn’t been achieved before. Most of all, I pray they never stop fighting for equality until it is enjoyed by all.  Our children and grandchildren will be better for it.