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CRW Defender overcomes gender stereotypes, likes being ‘underdog’

Tech. Sgt. Catherine Nelson, 921st Contingency Response Squadron security forces squad leader, poses for a photo Dec. 14, 2020, at Travis Air Force Base, California. When she began her career in security forces, she knew the job had been traditionally male-dominated in the past. And although this has changed over the years, Nelson said gender stereotyping can still happen in the military. (Photo by Master Sgt. Liliana Moreno)

Tech. Sgt. Catherine Nelson, 921st Contingency Response Squadron security forces squad leader, poses for a photo Dec. 14, 2020, at Travis Air Force Base, California. When she began her career in security forces, she knew the job had been traditionally male-dominated in the past. And although this has changed over the years, Nelson said gender stereotyping can still happen in the military. (Photo by Master Sgt. Liliana Moreno)

Contingency Response Forces assigned to the 821st Contingency Response Group out of Travis Air Force Base, Calif., respond to a simulated gunfire attack at the Geronimo Landing Zone during a mission in support of Green Flag Little Rock exercise, Feb. 11, 2019, Fort Polk, La. The primary objective of the exercise is to support the Joint Readiness Training Center and provide the maximum number of airlift crews, mission planners and ground support elements to a simulated combat environment with emphasis on joint force integration. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Liliana Moreno)

Contingency Response Forces assigned to the 821st Contingency Response Group out of Travis Air Force Base, Calif., respond to a simulated gunfire attack at the Geronimo Landing Zone during a mission in support of Green Flag Little Rock exercise, Feb. 11, 2019, Fort Polk, La. The primary objective of the exercise is to support the Joint Readiness Training Center and provide the maximum number of airlift crews, mission planners and ground support elements to a simulated combat environment with emphasis on joint force integration. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Liliana Moreno)

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- When kids are told they can grow up to be anything they want, they tend to dream big.

For Catherine Nelson, becoming a police officer was her childhood dream.

She joined the military and enlisted as a security forces specialist in August 2009 when she was just 19 years old.

When she began her career in security forces, she knew the job had been traditionally male-dominated in the past. And although this has changed over the years, Nelson said gender stereotyping can still happen in the military.

“As a female in the Air Force, I think it’s safe to say my biggest challenge has been trying to prove myself to be as good as one of the boys – proving that I am as capable of shooting as good as the guys, being more physically fit or making sure my work was better than the males I worked with,” Nelson said.

“Now don’t get me wrong, I love my job and the opportunities that I have been given,” she added. “But, I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say that it was a challenge as a young Airman to make a name for myself other than the ‘new girl on flight.’”

Despite the challenges, Nelson remains optimistic and sees it as an opportunity to rise to the top.

“I like being the underdog and proving people wrong,” she said. “I like getting out there and showing them that I should be there, and that I’m better than what anyone maybe potentially could have thought.”

At her current job, she is assigned to the 921st Contingency Response Squadron security forces as a squad leader, and holds the rank of technical sergeant.

Her supervisor, Tech. Sgt. Ali Williams, 921st CRS assistant flight chief, spoke highly of her and said she was without a doubt a top-tier Defender – equipped with passion, logic and the ability to continuously accomplish tasks at an extremely high level.

“Her character can be highlighted by the time she’s dedicated to her Airmen day in and day out,” Williams said. “Whether it’s assisting them with a problem, mentoring or leading members during a mission, Catherine not only excels but raises the bar for her peers to follow.”

According to her supervisor, Nelson has earned a solid reputation amongst her peers. Although the males in her current job are very supportive, she does sometimes feel that there are times she has to work a little harder, not for them, but for herself.

Nelson said the missions in the 621st Contingency Response Wing are completely different than what security forces members normally get to do.

“I love the CRW life,” she said. “I never thought I would be working beside the port flight to get my troops certified to drive a forklift or that I would be working beside maintenance to do sling load operations while on a training mission. The people that have come into my life here at the CRW have become a family to me and I am truly blessed for this experience.”

But perhaps one of Nelson’s most memorable experiences in the CRW was during her deployment with the airfield assessment team to help with hurricane relief in the Bahamas.

“I’ve always wanted to serve and help people in need,” she said. “It was truly humbling and beautiful to watch people come from all over to deliver supplies, aid, or just anything they could fit into their planes.”

For the future, Nelson wants to finish her bachelor’s degree and has even thought of potentially becoming an officer.

“If this doesn’t happen for me, I would love to teach at the Air Force Academy. The saying goes, ‘if you can’t do it, then teach it,’’’ she said. “I would love to make an impact on someone’s life, which could have a huge impact on the Air Force in the future.”