Women Who Tell Our Stories

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Caitlin Carnes, Airman Erika Chapa, Maj. Shanti Simon, Tech. Sgt. Brigette Waltermire
  • 137th Special Operations Wing

Airman Erika Chapa

Transitioning from my initial skills training in public affairs to a high-paced operational wing ignited in me an urgency for new creativity. I started “learning by fire” as I picked up several assignments within my first few days with my unit. Compared to the Airmen I completed technical training with, I found myself immediately producing published content that was being shared across global platforms under a novice skill-set.

I quickly got my boots dirty covering distinguished visits, training missions, and our Airmen’s stories. A new spark of pride overtakes me every time I see my stories and photos get picked up by news outlets – whether the Air National Guard or the Department of Defense – especially this early on in my career. When this happens, it isn’t just my product that is shared, but it is a piece of each Airman I work with.

Creating products that share our wing’s mission so early in my time at the 137th SOW gives me an opportunity to better understand our missions in the first place. Moreover, going into each assignment with a fresh perspective and a curious mind has allowed me to focus on the Airmen who make the mission possible.

It is important for me to remember that every Airman’s story will shape the future of our force, and I have the privilege of sharing those stories.

My products have the power to truly impact others, which gives my position an important purpose.

Maj. Shanti Simon

It was a warm day in the summer of 2016. From inside the cafeteria, we saw tiny hands and faces pressed up against the glass doors and windows, trying to get a peek at the Americans setting up their gear inside. Soon the doors opened to excited shouts and smiles as the students rushed in to hear a concert by the U.S. Air Forces Central Command (CENTCOM) Band, a public affairs entity deployed to CENTCOM to build partnerships and positive relationships with host nations. That meaningful physical presence in an uplifting atmosphere filled with music and dancing was always inspiring. Music provided the foundation for a positive interaction with Americans, and I could not help but think that the students in those rooms would one day be the leaders in their countries.

In 2018, I left an active-duty position with the flight commander for the U.S. Air Force Academy Band and took a job as the director of bands at the University of Oklahoma. I joined the 137th Special Operations Wing (SOW) as their public affairs officer and found myself in a role both familiar and foreign. The universal element of all military public affairs assets is storytelling. With the Air Force bands, storytelling meant sharing command messages, celebrating our nation’s heroes and building positive relationships through music. It was our mission to take the uniform into communities that may not regularly interact with the military or to create and host events that would bring communities together and provide a platform for commanders and other leaders to connect with people.

In public affairs for the 137th SOW, our storytelling resides primarily online where we are instrumental in showcasing our mission and communicating the commanders’ priorities. We connect our stories to the priorities of higher headquarters and intentionally amplify the impact of our mission through content that is shared globally. It is our job to celebrate and highlight the wonderful work of our Airmen and to ensure that our messages are seen, heard, and understood by our allies and our adversaries. The presence of this narrative is crucial to the success and impact of the 137th SOW mission.

Tech. Sgt. Brigette Waltermire

I deployed to CENTCOM at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and was restricted to base with limited interaction with local publics. While our public affairs office was not able to directly see how our messaging could impact those serving outside the wire, we were able to see the impact we could have communicating our readiness to indirectly engage with threats from other nations while keeping allies, partners and audiences at home informed. It became my mission to share information from up and down the chain of command to a variety of audiences while also ensuring that messaging was finely honed for targeted audiences. When I returned from my deployment, I went from being in the public affairs office for the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing, which runs the largest base in the CENTCOM area of responsibility, to a small Oklahoma Air National Guard Base of 1,200 that people refer to as “Oklahoma’s best kept secret.”

Our office at the 137th SOW had already been one of the most award-winning public affairs offices in the Air National Guard (ANG), but we needed to target that messaging to audiences we would not reach organically. We needed our leaders with the National Guard Bureau and Air Force Special Operations Command to amplify our work to commanders at higher headquarters as well as to their followership, and that was my objective upon my return. Then in March 2022, seven months after starting a full time position at the base, our two-man office downsized 50 percent. I became the only full time and drill status member who could independently perform public affairs duties in July of 2022.

I had been sharpening my skills in digital media and now had the added challenge of maintaining daily operations for our Airmen, and public affairs support for 1,200 people. No matter the added responsibility, my mission remained unchanged: Tell the stories of our Airmen and the missions they execute in support of global operations. Our team has succeeded at strategically advancing the stories of 137th SOW Airmen who are leading programs that will define how we, as AFSOC and the ANG, will train for the future fight.

Now, I look toward our next horizon for the future storytellers who will advance alongside them.

Staff Sgt. Caitlin Carnes

I joined the Oklahoma Air National Guard at Will Rogers Air National Guard Base in 2014, a year removed from playing college soccer. I was struggling to reconcile the part of me that craved being a part of a team. After studying communications at the University of Central Oklahoma, I felt like public affairs would be the right fit. I've always felt like a “word nerd”, whether it be spoken or written. There is so much to be passionate about in life, and the ability to effectively communicate that passion has always been important to me personally and professionally.

Upon joining, there were not any available positions for me to be a public affairs specialist. I decided to become a Knowledge Operations manager for the 137th Special Operations Wing (SOW) and waited to learn which office I would be joining. As fate would have it, I was assigned to the public affairs office. I spent my first-term enlistment helping the public affairs team manage day-to-day operations and tasks as they postured and positioned the 137th SOW on a local, national and global stage. I knew that’s what I wanted to do.

After completing my first enlistment, I am now retraining into public affairs. I recently wrote one of my first stories about the sides of public affairs no one sees; the tactical and strategic ways in which we operate to tell the Air Force story — Airmen’s stories.

I am now looking forward to telling even more stories in my career as a storyteller in the Oklahoma Air National Guard.