Women's Equality Day: She did it, so can you

  • Published
  • By Capt. Shane Ellis
  • U.S. Air Force Department of Diversity & Inclusion


She graduated high school at seventeen, her mom thought she was too young to go off to college, so she joined the U.S. Air Force a few years later with the simple dream of getting her education and then going to work for a Fortune 500 company. 

Today, she is an inspiration to women everywhere and her journey in the U.S. Air Force stands as a testament to the limitless horizons that await women who dare to soar. 

As we mark Women’s Equality Day 2023, she has served for more than three decades and her message to women of the present and future is simple and to the point: listen, learn and lead, which is exactly what she has done her entire life. 

Looking back at her early days, she bore the hallmark of someone with extraordinary promise. She was an honor student in school, captain of her varsity track, volleyball and basketball teams, vice president of student council, and graduated salutatorian from her high school. 

She clearly demonstrated the gift of leadership in her bones; however, the depth of her leadership abilities was not yet obvious in her own eyes. 

Her journey with the Air Force began in 1987 when she enlisted and became a personal affairs specialist. She did not come from a military family, so this Air Force thing was new to her. 

During her time as an Airman, or non-commissioned officer, she mastered her duties and received countless awards over the years including Airman of the Year, Junior Enlisted of the Year, Honor Guardsman of the Year, Personnel Manager of the Year, and she was even promoted early to Senior Airman, which is known as below the zone. And, she nailed staff sergeant on her first attempt!

She was dedicated and disciplined, and she completed a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of Southern Colorado in two and one-half years during her enlistment; however, she did not leave the Air Force in search of her former business executive dreams upon completing her degree as originally planned. 

Something changed, her mindset shifted, and someone saw something in her that she did not. According to her, it was through advocacy and mentorship that she decided to stay in the Air Force and seek a commission as an Air Force officer. 

She said it was her command chief at the time who encouraged her to apply for commission and gave her an application and a deadline to get it done. This was further backed by a lot of encouragement and formal endorsement from her major command commander at the time. So… she applied. 

Her journey into the officer ranks became a reality in 1996 when she graduated from Officer Training School where she was recognized with the Dick Scobee Leadership Award. It was this moment in time when she said the Air Force's vast, azure skies now symbolized opportunity and challenge, and she dove headfirst into both. 

Since her commission, she has held numerous positions at the highest levels of the USAF and the Department of Defense. 

She served as the executive officer to the Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force in 2008 where she worked behind the scenes to help shape Air Force directives. Her meticulous attention to detail and ability to anticipate needs made her indispensable and she became part of the transition team when the sitting vice chief of staff would become the commander of United States Transportation Command, now ascending to the role of his aide-de-camp.

She said her role as an aide-de-camp provided her with a tremendous opportunity to witness strategic decision-making during a time when global military dynamics were shifting and the continued need for military strategy, logistics, and the intricate interplay between diplomacy and force projection was paramount. 

From there she was selected for squadron command at the 1st Fighter Wing which later became 633d Air Base Wing.  In this role and subsequent roles, she led with humility, passion, and the will to win as she served to develop the next generation of Airmen. 

In a later position as the senior military advisor to the director of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity for the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense in 2015, she not only advised but also shaped policies to ensure an equitable field for all members of the defense community by driving the bullying and hazing policy across the finish line. This was a pivotal juncture in her career. 

On the heels of her short stint serving in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, she was selected for group command at the 31st Fighter Wing as a colonel select, and she soared in her role. It was during this time the European theater would heat up and the fighter wing was placed on alert.

Following her tour as group commander, she deployed to Iraq for a second time, but now serving at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad from 2017 to 2018, where she advised the Iraq government on Security Sector Reform following the Battle of Mosul. She continued to display commitment and resiliency in a country grappling with complexities; however, she stood firm and demonstrated diplomacy and strength in equal measure for America.

She returned to the Pentagon in 2018 for a fourth tour where she served as the director of legislative affairs for U.S. Central Command. It was here she became the voice to bridge the military's aspirations with the legislative realities of Capitol Hill shaping the policy for the Syrian withdrawal and stand-up of Prince Sultan Air Base.

Her leadership of the 75th Air Base Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, was marked by vision and compassion. Under her stewardship, the base became a beacon of excellence and hope for many, its operations running like a well-oiled machine now in support of the ongoing efforts in Ukraine. 

Today, as the Secretary of the Air Force Department of Diversity and Inclusion deputy director, she is molding the future. By instilling values of diversity and understanding, she is crafting an Air Force where everyone, regardless of background, has a seat at the table.

Her mother referred to her as “determined to succeed,” and her daughter said she continues to be inspired by her mother’s fortitude and grace. 

Yet more than her list of titles or accolades, what truly sets her apart are these three words: listening, learning and leading—her philosophy. 

Listening: In an era where noise often drowns out voices, she places a premium on lending an attentive ear. To her, every voice, however faint, has value and insight.

Learning: With a keen eye, she understands that not all challenges announce themselves. By closely observing and taking everything in, she has consistently preempted issues before they became problems.

Leading: Leadership, for her, is not passive but engaged. It is about making decisions, taking calculated risks, and always moving forward.

Her story is indeed extraordinary as it captures an American Airman who lives by the USAF core values and understands that “Freedom is not Free.” 

Her legacy is real, it triumphs humble beginnings, and she offers the following comment for all reading this story.

“You can’t change where you came from, but you can decide where you want to go,” she said. “Remember, just because you can’t see it does not mean you can’t do it. I have served in numerous roles as the first; however, I will not be the last woman to do so.”

This Women’s Equality Day, as we reflect on progress and the road ahead, Col. Jenise M. Carroll's journey serves as a beacon. 

To every woman questioning her worth, doubting her capability, or unsure of her path, let her story be a reminder: Greatness is not defined by gender or race, but by grit, grace and the gumption to chase dreams, however distant they may seem.

And, for those called to lead, remember her words, “all things are possible." Aspire, achieve, and always soar.


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