FORT WAYNE – Her new uniform hung in her closet for what seemed like an eternity.
Every once in awhile, Christine Hutchins would peek inside and stare at the fresh patches adorning the shoulder of each sleeve.
Shed imagine what it would feel like to actually slip it on, what it would look like once she looked down and saw those patches actually on her.
Three stripes sloping up to a point at the top; five more in a curve below, encasing an open star. And smack in the middle, a solid star – an exclamation mark on her now 30-year career with the Air National Guards 122nd Fighter Wing.
This month, Hutchins made history by becoming the first woman at the base to earn that star – the insignia for a units command chief.
Officials promoted Hutchins to the position and essentially put her in charge of the well-being – professionally and personally – of all the airmen and airwomen on the base.
Its something you strive for your entire career, but only a limited number of people make it, Hutchins said of the patch and new uniform. She was also promoted to the rank of chief master sergeant.
It may have been something she strove for, but it was also something that didnt come overnight.
And it certainly wasnt something on her mind back in 1982, when she decided to join the Guard.
That was a time when women on the base were few and far between.
In the family
One look at Hutchins family, and its no surprise that she eventually joined the Guard.
Born in Terre Haute, she was a middle child whose father was the former Air National Guard commander of Indiana and whose siblings all served stints in the Guard.
She graduated from Homestead High School in 1981 and enlisted in the Indiana Air National Guard the following year.
Hutchins says she did so because she saw what her older brother and older sister got to do in the Guard. But it was never something she was pushed into, despite her familys penchant to enlist.
It wasnt anything that was expected, Hutchins said. I was trying to find my way, and I kind of wanted to follow in their footsteps.
I saw the things they did, the places they went and how they helped people.
She was initially assigned as an administrative communications clerk for the 122nd Combat Support Squadron, a typical position that the few women joining the Guard at the time were assigned, Hutchins said.
At first serving in the Guard one weekend a month and two weeks a year, Hutchins was eventually given a full-time job at the base performing administrative duties.
It fit me, and I was just happy to have a job, she says.
As she stayed in the Guard, she began to receive promotions, though, and she began to focus more and more on her career.
She served as a commanders assistant, as the base records manager, in information management and eventually as a cyber systems manager.
Then, through the years, she began to notice more women enlisting. And they werent all starting in administrative departments.
It wasnt like it is now, Hutchins says.
In the early 1980s, she didnt see women working in the mechanical areas of the base. They werent joining to learn firefighting skills.
Now? She can walk back in the hangars or anywhere on the base and see young women up to their elbows in grease, with it all over their faces.
Hutchins never experienced any reluctance from military officials or those on the base in regard to women doing jobs that in the past may have been traditionally held by men.
But she definitely noticed the shift toward women wanting to do those jobs over the years, which she says were always available to them.
Base officials attribute the shift to what has changed with society at large. More women are going to college, and the guard allows people to help defray the rising tuition costs. Thus, more women are signing up.
More women are scoring high marks on aptitude tests – higher then ever before, according to base spokesman Master Sgt. Darin Hubble – that put them in fields like mechanics or firefighting.
Were a direct mirror reflection of whats going on (in the country), Hubble said. Whats happening inside the gates is happening outside the gates.
Hutchins likes the change shes seeing, and she hopes in her new position she can be of help to any woman who might be thinking about a career in the Guard.
Im glad I might be paving a new way, she said. I do want to be a role model.
Still, she downplays being the first woman to hold the command chief position; shes there for everyone on the base, she says.
A goal achieved
An avid runner, tennis player and fitness fanatic, Hutchins approaches her career with the same drive and determination she gives her workouts.
I dont like to fail, she said. At anything. Its just part of my nature. Each new job has to have more challenges.
She began eyeing the command chiefs star about five years ago. The position was created in the early 80s at the 67-year-old base, and she made earning it her goal. It happened with a phone call earlier this summer.I had high hopes, she said. But I also knew there were other very good candidates.
Then officials gave her the new uniform, and she counted down the days until she could stop looking at it in the closet, taking peeks at those stripes and the new star.
She knows the challenges the base is facing – like all federal agencies, the budget is tight for the 122nd.
Hutchins new job has her keeping the wing commander advised on all issues concerning enlisted personnel and also overseeing first sergeants and group supervisors.
But she wants her airmen and airwomen to know shes approachable. If there is a personal issue, she can listen to them. If its work-related, base-related or training-related, she can try to help, she said.
Earlier this month, she finally got to don the new patches. Then the first day on the job came and went.
There were some butterflies in her stomach and plenty of congratulations from others.
And the new duds she had spent so much time peeking at in the closet fit perfectly.