HomeNewsPublicationsCE MagazineWomen in CE - Success Because of Family

I'm an Airman Engineer: Success thanks to family

At right, Michelle Linn evaluates the latest space optimization effort with Mark Kjosen. (Courtesy photo)

At left, Michelle Linn works on staff packages with executive officer Capt. Derek Gregory. (Courtesy photo)
Michelle Linn
Chief, Installation Management Division
Headquarters, Air Force Space Command

    I started my Air Force career as a second lieutenant in October 1987. As a mechanical engineer graduating from an ROTC program, I had very little knowledge or expectation of what it meant to be an Air Force civil engineer. My first job was as a construction contract inspector in the 1100th Civil Engineer Squadron on Bolling Air Force Base, Washington D.C. 

    I separated from the Air Force on a Friday and started my civilian career the following Monday at nearby Andrews AFB, Maryland.  I like to say all I really changed was my outfit.  My first two duty locations provided me with a wonderful combination of learning and leadership opportunities. My work ethic, responsiveness to customers and understanding of the importance of taking care of people were formed during this time.  I was very fortunate to have some of the best military and civilian supervisors early in my career. They recognized and encouraged my accomplishments, but more importantly they provided top cover and helped me overcome my mistakes (trust me, there were some big ones). Those first two squadrons were where I learned I was part of a CE family and where I realized I loved being an Air Force civil engineer. 

    I actually separated from civil service in 1994 to follow my active-duty spouse to graduate school in Houston, Texas. While there, I obtained my master's in Environmental Engineering from the University of Houston and re-entered civil service at headquarters Air Force Space Command in February 1996. I started as a GS-12 environmental compliance program manager and was then competitively promoted to the pollution prevention branch chief. Two years later, through a position review, I was promoted to GS-14 as part of an effort to standardize the organizational and grade structure across HQ AFSPC. Was I lucky? Yes. Was I in the right place at the right time? Yes, definitely. 

    Both space command and the environmental programs were in the throes of significant growth during this time and I gained knowledge and experience in planning, programming and budgeting across all CE programs. I was detailed into the chief of plans and programs position and managed the military construction and sustainment, restoration and modernization programs before being management reassigned to lead a newly established housing division in 2003. 

    When the housing division chief was upgraded to a GS-801-15 position, I was competitively selected to fill it in May 2005. In the summer of 2007, I assumed responsibilities for environmental, real estate and housing, and became the asset management division chief. As the CE transformation continued, the duties and responsibilities changed to the installation management division in September 2012.  Later this year, I will assume the role as the A4C Civil Engineer Division chief on the retained MAJCOM AFSPC staff.

    Obviously, I didn't follow a typical career path and I realize in today's Air Force it would be nearly impossible to replicate. The best career advice I ever got was actually when I was a Lieutenant, from Gen. Henry Viccellio. He said not to worry about filling squares and planning which jobs to take in order to get promoted. He said do the very best in the job you are in today, and make sure your accomplishments are what your boss wants to put on their own performance reports.    

    I believe this advice still holds true today, but as our civilian career field has evolved, the completion of professional military education, professional registration and a Master's degree are more critical when competing for promotion. Unfortunately there are significantly fewer opportunities for promotion in our career field now than there were 10 or even five years ago. Another challenge is our move toward a more military-type promotion culture which values mobility and breadth of experience (number of jobs).

    As we look at diversity, I believe this culture might be setting us back instead of moving us forward. However, I am optimistic about future changes, in both the civilian and military career progression models, which will identify other factors to more progressively develop and promote individuals within our workforce. 

    As a woman, I am a minority in the civil engineer career field. Yet I honestly don't think gender played a role for me one way or another in my career progression. I am very grateful to be able to make that statement, and understand and appreciate how others may not have fared so well in our Air Force or in society as a whole. There is still work to be done to improve diversity and gender equality.

    Being a military spouse and having two children with significant special needs were far more challenging to my career than my gender. The challenges were great, but so were the benefits. As a military spouse, I benefitted tremendously from experiences of command and multiple deployments by living through them as an Air Force family. Being a mom to two kids with severe autism taught me humility and advocacy. I have seen the depths of despair, but also the true power of faith, hope, and love through them.

    In closing, I'll share what I believe are the best parts of my job. Solving problems, getting things done and helping people are what drive my days. The icing on the cake for me is mentoring officers and civilians. I like to push them to work a little harder, but also make sure I am providing that top cover and safety net in case they stumble. Earning their trust and watching them grow are the true perks of this job.

     My advice? Take care of each other. Don't take yourself too seriously. Work hard. Be proud of what you do and what we have accomplished as a civil engineer community. The Air Force will continue to change, but our community can ground us as we move through these tumultuous times. Change also brings opportunities, so prepare yourself for that next step and get involved in shaping our future. Keep showing everyone how Engineers ... Lead the Way!

(Editor's Note: This article is part of the "I'm an Airman Engineer" series for CE Online. The series focuses on individual CE Airmen to highlight their careers and the diversity, knowledge, career fields and people within our community. In the past, the CE career field has relied primarily on geographic mobility to demonstrate an individual had the breadth of experience necessary to succeed at the next higher level.  Geographic mobility included Major command tours, which allowed an individual to experience and appreciate the various MAJCOM cultures and missions, and obtain an enterprise view of the Air Force mission. Two of the primary advantages provided by the civilian workforce are continuity and depth of knowledge. With that in mind, the Air Force will consider mobility between areas of responsibility in the same local area as on par with movement between geographic locations. Regardless of the type of mobility demonstrated, it's most important that individuals demonstrate a willingness to take on different and increasing areas of responsibility over the course of their career.)