United States Air Force Academy - Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Science
Jennifer Haney is a fearless dreamer. And we don't say those words lightly. She not only brings to fruition whatever she sets her mind to, but she has a resume that makes us proud to be in her company and a part of our community. Jennifer graduated from the United States Air Force Academy and then spent five years as a communications officer with the Active Duty Air Force. Two years into her job she was deployed to Uzbekistan, just after Operation Enduring Freedom began. It was there that a new dream — flying — started to pique her interest. Jennifer earned her Private Pilot's license in 2005, and another two and a half years later completed all of the training to become an Air Force C-130 pilot. She's been in the skies ever since.
While Jennifer was a communications officer she devoted her heart to another one of her passions — athletic competition. She was selected, and competed nationally and around the world, for the Air Force Swim Team, Cross Country Team and Triathlon Team. That led to her selection as part of the U.S. Pentathlon Team, which gave her the opportunity to train at the Olympic Training Center and put the 2009 Olympic games in Beijing within her site. But like any dreamer, Jennifer followed her gut, and the tough decision she made, which you will read about more below, allows her the opportunity to save lives and provide medical aide on a regular basis in her career. Get ready to meet one woman who knows how to make a difference.
This job doesn't come without sacrifices, but I still believe that most of those sacrifices are for the greater good.
How did you discover your current job?
After graduating from USAFA in 2000, I spent five years as a communications officer with the Active Duty Air Force performing information technology management functions wherever they needed me. I was deployed to Uzbekistan during the summer of 2002, shortly after Operation Enduring Freedom kicked off. It was there that I was exposed to the flying community, the missions they were conducting in-theater and to the Air National Guard. I was looking for my next challenge. Flying was something totally out of my element, something I had no background in, and to be honest, looked pretty overwhelming. It also looked like a fantastic adventure and a pretty fun job. It had my name all over it!
What has been your path so far to get you where you are today?
I was exposed to the military early on ... my father attended the United States Naval Academy (USNA) and spent his 21-year career as a Surface Warship Officer and a Submariner. I spent my childhood moving every two to three years, growing up along the coasts of the U.S. When it was time for me to choose a college, it was only natural for me to consider the Academies. I was recruited to both USNA and USAFA for swimming. USAFA won out as I grabbed my skis and headed west.
Like many 22 year olds, I graduated USAFA with a fantastic education and still no clear direction as to what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go. Luckily, the Air Force decides all of that for you! I spent my first year out of the Academy, recruiting on the East Coast for USAFA and ROTC Scholarships. Following that assignment, I was trained up as a communications officer and was sent to live in the Mojave Desert. I worked at the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California. A young and eager Lieutenant, I volunteered to do my share in the desert, and I was deployed to Uzbekistan for three months. It was there where I was really exposed to the flying community and the amazing missions they were conducting every day while deployed. I wanted a challenge, and I was inspired. I decided then and there to become a military aviator.
Now, just because I decided to fly doesn’t mean the AF also wanted me to fly. I came home from the desert with a goal, and I was unsure how to make it happen. I spent another year at Edwards AFB, working hard at my job and was quickly given another assignment in Osan AB in South Korea for a year. Responsible for 150 personnel and millions of dollars, I got my first taste of management and enjoyed it, but I still had the bug to fly. I decided to enroll at the Aero Club and start my Private Pilot’s License while living in Korea. Before I could finish, I was reassigned to work on the MILSTAR Satellite Program in Colorado Springs, Colo. During the summer of 2005, I finished up my Private License in a Cessna 172 and started down the road to becoming a professional pilot.
Was there any one situation that helped you along your way?
To understand my drive, you have to understand my past. Aside from having wonderful parents that raised me with an extremely strong work ethic, good morals and who never allowed the words “can’t” or “I don’t know” in our house, the most significant event affecting my adult life would be the loss of my sister. Kelly was killed in a car accident in the winter of 2001. She was 22, and I was 23. She had just graduated from USNA, and she had planned a last-minute wedding to her then-boyfriend from Estonia. Me, my parents and my youngest sister jumped on a plane to Estonia following Christmas and flew to meet the lovebirds for their wedding. She was killed in a head-on collision on the drive to pick us up from the airport -- just two days before her wedding.
We were 15 months apart in age and very close. There is such clarity in times like these, clarity in what is important in life. The only solace I could find following the months after the accident was to work as hard as I could to live life every day to its fullest. To live for those who have had their lives cut short. Embodying this attitude, I worked hard in my job, and I poured myself into one of my biggest passions -- competitive sports. I was selected -- and competed nationally and around the world -- for the Air Force Swim Team, Cross Country Team and Triathlon Team. I was eventually selected to train with the U.S. Pentathlon Team at the Olympic Training center, setting the 2009 Beijing Olympics in sight. In spite of this budding athletic career, I still had that light inside me that wanted an even bigger challenge. I had a passion for sports, but I was looking for something less selfish. I wanted a challenge, while also contributing to something bigger than myself. It was at this same time that I flew up to Alaska, interviewed, and was selected to become an HC-130 Rescue Pilot for the Alaska Air National Guard.
It was a tough decision -- continue at the Olympic Training Center and pursue the Olympic dream? Or move to Alaska and start my aviation career? A gut decision led me north.
What is your typical day like? Does it ever change?
If you’re looking for a 9-to-5, this isn’t the job for you. As a rescue pilot, we have an alert commitment 24 hours a day/7 days a week. We conduct training missions during the day or night, but we are always on call. If someone is hurt and stranded in the Alaskan tundra at 2 a.m. and you’re on call, out the door you go.
I served as a rescue pilot for a year in Alaska. This job was extremely rewarding, and it felt good to give back to the great state that put me through all my training. However, opportunity again came knocking. The Airlift Squadron down the hall needed an extra pilot to deploy to Afghanistan with them during winter 2009, and I quickly raised my hand. They also fly C-130’s, so with a quick spin-up on the Airlift/Airdrop mission, I shipped off to Afghanistan. Seven years after my first deployment to the desert, I came back as an aviator.
As a C-130 pilot, our schedules are always changing. We fly locally, ensuring we stay current in our training. We fly trips around the country and around the world, performing airlift to all facets of the military and other organizations. We deploy in support of U.S. operations around the world. The missions, requirements and environments are always changing.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
As a Rescue Pilot, it was extremely rewarding to know that my job directly affected the difference between someone living or dying.
As an Airlift Pilot, my flying in Afghanistan, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom is extremely rewarding. Conducting airdrops to U.S. Army and Marines and our allies on the ground, directly affects their ability to conduct their mission and sometimes is the difference between life and death in the mountains of Afghanistan. Conducting Med Evac missions to those same troops is sometimes heartbreaking, but it's also rewarding to know that getting them out of there will hopefully save their lives. Providing airlift to troops and equipment around the theater of operations is essential and great to be a part of.
On a day-to-day basis, just starting those big engines and flying a C-130, low-level at 300 feet through the mountains of Alaska provides enough endorphins to last a lifetime!
What is the most challenging part?
What makes this job the most rewarding is also what makes it the most challenging. Aviation is a career with serious consequences, and there’s always a little bit of luck thrown in there. I am responsible for the lives of five crew members and a multimillion-dollar airplane every time I step out to “the office.” There could be anywhere up to 64 people and thousands of pounds of equipment carried behind my seat on any given day. It’s a job that appears glamorous, but it doesn’t come without a lot of preparation, constant studying and a ton of responsibility.
What is the biggest personal sacrifice you have to make because of your job?
Naturally as a pilot, you travel a lot. You miss a lot of events at home while you’re gone. It takes a toll on personal relationships and time spent with family and friends. I spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Afghanistan last year, and I’ll give up my summer in Alaska to a summer in 130-degree temps, blowing dust and 16-hour workdays. Between my boyfriend (who also is a pilot) and me, we’ll deploy three times this year and spend at least 8 months apart. This job doesn’t come without sacrifices, but I still believe that most of those sacrifices are for the greater good.
What is one lesson you've learned in your job that sticks with you?
Something we’re taught from day one of flight training is to “never stop flying the aircraft.” If you think about it, that lesson should apply to everything in life. Never give up, give everything you’ve got, and take it to the finish. Keep flying the aircraft.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge for women today, particularly females in your industry?
There just aren’t many women in this career field, period. Of 32 pilots in my unit, I’m the only female. As recently as Dec 2010, the Air Force has 14,192 pilots and 668 are female (according to the Air Force Personnel Center). You have to be tough, never take yourself too seriously, and be open to constructive criticism. You have to balance “being one of the guys” while still earning their respect and proving you are just as capable. Overcoming stereotypes isn’t much of an issue along the way as long as you are a good at what you do!
Who are your role models?
My parents, Keith and Eva Haney.
Is there a quote or mantra that you live by?
A couple: “Live like you were dying.” “No one ever died from pain.”
What advice do you have for girls who want to be in your industry?
Work hard in school. It opens so many doors in the future. Do your very best in everything you tackle.
Get involved in sports. There are so many lessons you can learn from being a part of sports; teamwork, dedication, hard work, and setting and achieving goals. All of these attributes will take you far in any career you choose to follow.
Dream big, and shoot for the stars! You’ll never get there if you don’t try. I was told that my sports career would never take me to the Olympics, but my path took me close before I chose a different direction. I never dreamed as a kid that I would be a pilot, but that dream started as a 24-year-old woman, and I made it happen.