42nd Air Base Wing, Maxwell Air Force Base
U.S. Air Force
Seminole Community College, Florida
By Evelyn L. KentCommunity College Times
Her infectious laugh makes it tempting to paint Col. Frances Martin, Ret., as a warm and fuzzy counterpoint to the Hollywood images of hard-bitten military leaders. But that would be a mistake.
Not because she is a hard nose, but because the fact that she’s not would surely be attributed to her gender. And that would be wrong.
Martin retired in October as the 42nd Air Base Wing Commander of Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. She was, indeed, the first female wing commander at Maxwell. She does not consider this nearly so important as the fact that she was the first nonaviator wing commander at Maxwell.
This attitude is not the result of humbleness. Statements such as, “If I had stayed in the Air Force, they would have offered me another great job, another great opportunity …” lead one to believe that she has a healthy sense of self, even as she acknowledges that she has been helped along the way by “good people.”
That sense of self led her to Seminole Community College in Florida in 1973. She was 24 and had gained a lot of experience and perspective working a variety of jobs since leaving high school as an honors student. She knew she would need additional education to increase her income, and comfortable with the environment at the community college, she returned to school. “Frankly I was glad there was a community college there. I did not want to start back at a four-year college.”
After earning an associate of arts from SCC, she started attending classes at what is now the University of Central Florida in Orlando and earned her bachelor’s in psychology. There she joined ROTC with an eye on the future. “When I took the oath for ROTC … I knew that I was going to be career military,” she said. The single mother of two sons had to fund her education. “I knew that I had a family to support, and I could already tell that I was going to need continuing education in psychology to earn a living in psychology.”
She was right on both counts. Her resume is studded with accomplishments that sound slightly mysterious, but nonetheless impressive, to the nonmilitary ear and that include: executive officer of Personnel Program Management at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas, executive officer for Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel at the Pentagon, and director of personnel of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
In short, here is a member of the military who has spent her entire career helping people be the best they can at what they do. She finds people jobs. She helps them find training. She creates an environment in which they excel. This may sound familiar to community college leaders.
Col. Martin has spent the last few months giving speeches to civic groups on “the changing and challenging role of today’s military, specifically related to the Iraq war,” she said. “A lot of the folks I’m talking to are employers of Guard and Reserve members, and I know what this is doing to them. They used to be able to get (their employees) back, but now they’re gone.”
She sees community colleges helping to train workers to fill in for absent military members, but she believes they have a larger role to play in coming months. “I do think what the community colleges need to be gearing up veterans services for post-Iraq as they did for the post-Vietnam veterans,” Col. Martin said.