ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE | Once she finds privacy in an empty room, she pulls out her breast pump and settles in, all the while looking over her shoulder to make sure no one walks in.
This is a situation that is all too familiar to many mothers in the military, and things like breastfeeding and pumping can be especially difficult for mothers in the 28th Security Forces Squadron.
“When you’re working (on shift), you don’t have an office or any private spaces,” said Senior Airman Tkeyah Charley, a response force member assigned to the 28th SFS. “When it comes to pumping, I don’t have a designated area to do so, so I end up having to go around the squadron to find a room or eventually kicking someone out of their office. I feel bad because I’m hindering their work.”
After one too many experiences of people walking in on her pumping, Charley decided to do something about it.
“One of my flight mates had mentioned that I bring the issue up to our commander, so I scanned a quick response code and sent him an e-mail,” Charley said. “I explained the situation to him and suggested there should be a ‘Mother-Zone’ inside the squadron so mothers can have a safe and comfortable place to pump or breastfeed. Within two days, I got a response from him saying ‘Airman Charley, you’re absolutely right. Get a plan together and bring it to me.’”
After receiving such a positive response, it became apparent this project needed someone to be in charge of all of the planning and projects.
“When my first sergeant first spoke to me about the family room idea and asked if I would be interested in leading this, I was a bit apprehensive,” said Staff Sgt. Christina Powell, the unit training manager assigned to the 28th SFS. Later on, she found out the idea was actually recommended by an Airman in the squadron.
Powell said as the idea grew to fruition and the team began developing and working on the family room, it became somewhat of a “breaking the glass ceiling” effort, as this is the first family room that has been created on Ellsworth.
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“Initiatives such as this show how security forces is leading the way and creating a safe haven for our defenders and their families within the squadron,” said Master Sgt. Sibyl Reyes, the 28th SFS first sergeant.
Soon the process of bringing life to the aptly named Little Defender’s Den began, and the team worked on what needed to be done in order to make this dream a reality. From receiving generous donations of toys and furniture and gathering together on the weekends to work, the room came along.
However, there have been some bumps along the way.
“The process of putting this all together has been pretty stressful,” Charley explained. “It’s hard to get the group together when we all work different shifts.”
Despite the obstacles, Charley says the team is doing all they can to bring this family room to members of the squadron.
“We get recalled a lot, and it can happen at any time,” Charley said. “You could get called back anywhere from 4 in the morning to 10 at night. So in some instances, your spouse may be at work or out of town and the daycare could be closed, so you have nowhere to take them. This gives you a place to bring your kids during those situations.”
The room will include a private space for breastfeeding and pumping, a chalkboard wall for children to draw on, as well as different play areas and a TV.
“The family room is important to me because I first became a mother during a time when resources and guidance for parents was lacking in clarity and in support,” Powell said. “Having available, cumulative and comprehensive family resources and support are essential and have far-reaching impacts in all aspects of life, for all families, including mine.”