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Hurlburt Field's First Female Commander Of 1st SOW Wants To Be An 'Influence' To Women

Jennie McKeon/WUWF Public Media

Col. Jocelyn Schermerhorn took command of the 1st Special Operations Wing (1st SOW) at Hurlburt Field last month in the midst of a pandemic and protests against systematic racism following the death of George Floyd. 

As the first female commander of 1st SOW, Schermerhorn has not only taken command during unprecedented times, but she’s also made history. However, Schermerhorn said the fact that she’s a woman is not what defines her as a leader. 

“It influences, though,” she said at a media roundtable Wednesday morning. “We’re seeing more and more women in the special operations community. If my being the first female wing commander can provide other women the understanding that they, too, have the opportunity, then that’s awesome.”

When Schermerhorn first came to special operations squadron in 2003, there were less than a dozen women, but that has changed in the last 17 years. She credits the history of female service members before her, including Maj. Gen. Jeannie M. Leavitt — the Air Force’s first female fighter pilot — for paving the way. But she admits, she never thought much about her gender. 

“It was never entering my mind that there was a barrier,” she said. “My goal is that I want to make sure that women throughout AFSOC recognize there’s no barrier. There’s opportunities out there, they just need to keep working hard and excelling at the mission.” 

Schermerhorn is a 25-year Air Force officer and master navigator with more than 3,500 flight hours. Prior to 1st SOW, she served as the vice commander of the 11th Wing at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. This is her third post at Hurlburt Field headquarters of Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC). 

Having that background helped her dive right into the new position since the command moves at a “rapid pace,” she said. And while operations have been challenging during COVID-19, the mission hasn’t stopped. 

“The unique trait of 1st SOW is the ‘anytime anyplace’ motto and behind that is the mission readiness posture to ensure our airmen are ready to go anywhere they need to go when they’re needed,” she said. “One of the things we’ve looked at here in Hurlburt Field is how do we maintain enduring posture, because we don’t know when this condition will change.” 

As commander of Hurlburt Field’s host unit, Schermerhorn issued a mask mandate for everyone to wear a mask at all times, with the exceptions being base housing or physical training. There are no other mask mandates within Okaloosa County other than Hurlburt Field and Eglin Air Force Base. While Schermerhorn has not had any specific conversations with local leaders about mask mandates, she said she highly encourages local governments to make sure their messagessupport CDC guidelines

“We’re maximizing the use of face coverings at Hurlburt Field for a couple of reasons,” Schermerhorn said. “One, the CDC guidelines says if you’re wearing face coverings, you reduce the community spread of the virus. That’s a win in my book. Secondly, it acts as a reminder to all of us that these are not normal times and we need to be cautious.” 

When it comes to life outside of the base, Schermerhorn said she has trust that personnel will “do the right thing and lead by example.” 

Credit Hurlburt Field
Col. Jocelyn Schermerhorn

Other changes to mitigate the spread around the base includes reducing the number of personnel and services on base to reduce social interactions and reduce the number of people in confined spaces. 

“We have been able to continue operational flying requirements to enable that mission continue,” she added.

Another challenge is building a game plan for deployed personnel. Schermerhorn said there’s an additional process added to ensure airmen are quarantined and tested prior to travel. Leave approval for travel outside of the local area has also resumed barring a risk assessment of the health and travel destination for personnel. 

One of Schermerhorn’s primary goals outside of preparing the wing, airmen and their families is creating an inclusive culture, she said. For her part, she said she’s been listening to podcasts and reading books to gain a deeper understanding of systemic racism and the challenges Black people face in the U.S. And she’s encouraging her commanders to listen and have difficult conversations. 

“I asked my group commanders for some assistance and they came up with a good recommendation, which is to use the phrase listen, learn and lead,” she said. “The listening piece, I think is most important, but first you have to understand the complex issue. 

“Our mission requires the input of everyone that’s part of the mission,” she continued. “So, if your teammate is having a bad day because of an experience based on the way they look, we owe it to them as their teammate to be there for them and to be sure we’ve  got their back.”

As for significant changes on base, Schermerhorn said it’s an “ongoing conversation.” 

“It’s a work in progress,” she said. “We’re making sure our approach we’re using is engaging and enabling airmen to feel comfortable when they’re coming forward with those experiences.” 

Jennie joined WUWF in 2018 as digital content producer and reporter.