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Armed Services Week Viewpoint: Q&A With A Veteran Who Continues to Serve

Becky stands on a rooftop overlooking small buildings in a desert town

An interview with Rebecca Nelson Bahm

Q: How did your military experience(s) shape you into the person you are today?

A: My military service taught me so much. Everything from time management to mission focus, taking care of people, and how to prioritize. It taught me to keep a positive attitude in the most trying of circumstances, because your people need that from you. My time in the military gave me so many amazing opportunities, from getting my bachelor's and master's degrees paid for, to some amazing assignments and deployments, and of course meeting so many wonderful people, many of which are still my closest friends today. My background in civil engineering was a perfect fit to be hired into NSA Installations & Logistics, where I continue to do the job that I love. I just have to pick out my own clothes now.

Q: What inspired you to join the military, and why did you choose the Air Force?

A: My father, and many of my uncles and cousins, had served in the military, mostly in the Air Force (AF). My dad was AF and then AF Reserves, and had nothing but good things to say about the Air Force. I applied for an AF ROTC scholarship for a degree in architectural engineering, and was lucky enough to be selected. I spent 10 years on active duty in the AF, and then transitioned into the Maryland Air National Guard for the next 14 years.

Q: When you look back on your service, what accomplishments stand out?

A: I accomplished everything I wanted and even some things I wasn’t expecting. First and foremost, I accomplished my main goal – to get a formal education. I went into my chosen career field – civil engineering— which in the AF encompasses an entire career field of people who fix, maintain, and build air bases. I enjoyed every minute of it, and ended up breaking a couple of glass ceilings too. I was lucky enough to have deployed many times in my career, from the first Gulf War in 1991, to JOINT ENDEAVOR in Hungary in 1995-96, to Germany twice in 2003 and 2007 as headquarters USAFE staff augmentation, and finally to Ali, Iraq in 2004 serving with the Army.

My last assignment in the Guard was serving as the first female commander of my unit, from 2011-2014. My former unit is a civil engineering unit that augments headquarters staffs, and we were heavily utilized during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. I am proud to say my unit did an outstanding job supporting both the Air Force and the Army, and many members of my unit earned the Bronze Star for their efforts. I also had the unique opportunity to serve on a state of Maryland commission for three years, working to provide a memorial honoring women who served in the military services in Maryland, not just the AF.

Q: What is one myth about the military that you would like to bust?

A: I think there is a myth out there that the National Guard and Reserves might not be as exciting as being on active duty. Total fallacy! The Guard and Reserves are full of people who are not only true professionals from every walk of life, they volunteer to continue serving their country on their weekends and sacrificing time with their families. They bring that immense expertise to bear in their ANG/reserve jobs. My unit had people who owned their own engineering businesses, we had people from almost every three-letter agency in the Washington, D.C. area, and many high-ranking professionals from major global engineering companies.

Rebecca works for NSA Installations & Logistics, and is a retired US Air Force and Maryland Air National Guard senior officer and civil engineer.