Women in history: rising to the glass ceiling

Lt. Col Shannon Sherwin is the 354th Fighter Wing staff judge advocate. As a female field grade officer, she has overcome obstacles that have helped her become an asset to the Air Force while remaining true to herself. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Zachary Perras)

Lt. Col Shannon Sherwin is the 354th Fighter Wing staff judge advocate. As a female field grade officer, she has overcome obstacles that have helped her become an asset to the Air Force while remaining true to herself. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Zachary Perras)

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Editor's note: "Women in History" is a four-part series portraying women currently stationed at Eielson who have positively made an impact.

Shannon Sherwin only intended on staying in the Air Force for four years, using it simply as a stepping stone into a career with the FBI. Sometimes, however, plans change, and now, 14 years later as a lieutenant colonel, she still proudly wears the uniform.

Before serving as Eielson's staff judge advocate, Sherwin rose through the ranks in a world filled primarily with males. Every task she received, she took in stride, never allowing herself to feel weighed down by stereotypes.

"When I joined, I think the JAG corps and the Air Force as a whole weren't as close-minded, but the attorney world is still predominantly a male-oriented society," said Sherwin. "There's always that glass ceiling at some point. It probably exists somewhere, but I've never come across it."

Sherwin has always known her goals in life and how to set them. One of her first goals was to reach the rank of lieutenant colonel - and now that she has achieved it, she is looking to her next step: colonel.

These goals were set because Sherwin strived to better herself. At the end of the day, an Airman, whether male or female, must make life decisions based on what they know they want for themselves, she said.

"I think you have to find out what works for you," Sherwin said. "The Air Force will do what's right for the Air Force; you've got to do what's right for you."

With this outlook, Sherwin has had opportunities she never dreamed of, such as being deployed on a Navy vessel, and has been able to expand her Air Force career to open doors she never would have imagined, she said. While these opportunities have been hand-in-hand with sacrifices, they have been nothing Sherwin has not been able to triumph over.

"Be true to yourself and be able to look inward to see if you're the type of person who can make the sacrifices that the military asks you to make," she said. "You constantly have to ask yourself that throughout your career. There isn't a day that goes by that there isn't a sacrifice somewhere ... where Airmen, in general, don't sacrifice something for the Air Force."

Those sacrifices have been defining factors in Sherwin's career, shaping her into a stronger person and a stronger leader. Whether it has been through deployments or merely staying late at work, Sherwin has overcome the obstacles in order to be an asset to the Air Force while remaining true to herself.

For all Airmen, male or female, Sherwin has a simple rule for success: keep your head up and keep moving forward through any difficulties.

"You can do anything that you put your mind to, and that goes to any walk of life and anything that you do," she said. "Rise up to that ceiling and keep doing it."