A Single Mother’s Commitment to Service and Family While Joining the Air National Guard

By Staff Sgt. Katelyn Noel

It takes a village. For some, this means relying on family or friends to watch their kids for a date night or to pick them up from football practice. But for many military members, ‘it takes a village’ takes on a deeper meaning.

Deployments, temporary duty assignments and training can take members away from their families and kids for weeks or months at a time. U.S. Air National Guard Airman 1st Class Mackenzie Gutierrez, a geospatial intelligence analyst with the 232d Intelligence Squadron, experienced the need for her village early in her career with the 132d Wing.

From the beginning, Mackenzie wanted to serve a purpose greater than herself. Because of this feeling, she stepped out of her comfort zone and joined the Iowa Air National Guard. A short while later, Mackenzie became pregnant. She was pushed by many to get out of the Guard; in fact, Mackenzie remembers being told she’d be too emotional to continue her career in the military and that it would be best for everyone if she left.

“I remember thinking, that’s not happening. That’s not even an option. I made a commitment, and I’m going to stick to it. And not just because of that commitment, but to better myself,” Mackenzie said.

Staying true to her word and her obligation, at only six months postpartum, Mackenzie left for Basic Military Training (BMT). At that time, she had to rely heavily on her baby’s father, and both of their families, for support. While she missed her daughter while she was away at BMT, she remains grateful to everyone who stepped up in her time of need, especially her daughter’s dad and their families.

Mackenzie also remains grateful to the family she’s gained from the 132d Wing of the Air National Guard. In particular, Tech. Sgt. Dawn Dawson, a 232d IS intelligence analyst, has been one of her biggest mentors. Mackenzie recalled how Dawn continuously checked on her throughout student flight, training and even after.

Airman 1st Class Mackenzie Gutierrez of the Iowa Air National Guard poses for a photo with her daughter. Mackenzie committed to serving in the Air Force despite the challenges of balancing single motherhood with school and the Guard. | Photo credit DVIDS/Master Sgt. Michael Kelly

Dawson explained that while Mackenzie has many challenges to face – juggling being a single mom, Guard responsibilities and school – the challenge never daunts her. Dawson said that Mackenzie continues to bring a can-do attitude to the mission.

“It has been great to watch A1C Gutierrez develop from a member of student flight to a fully trained intelligence analyst. I remember how eager she was to complete BMT and Tech School and dive completely into the intel job. She excelled in training and quickly moved into a real-world production role,” Dawn said.

As we recognize Women’s History Month, Mackenzie believes the observance should be about appreciating women that have gone through adversities and achieved things they never thought they were capable of. While it can be terrifying and difficult, Mackenzie says that serving in the military has grown her, and she hopes to show other women all that’s possible.

As to why she chose the Air Force, Gutierrez said it’s because they statistically have the most women serving. And while recruitment of women in the military is still a work in progress, Mackenzie hopes to continue seeing women, especially women of color, joining. She recognizes that those shared experiences can allow female service members to progress and excel in the mission.

“Always remembering your ‘whys’ is the biggest thing. Remembering ‘why am I here?’ and ‘why am I doing this?’ is important,” Mackenzie said.

The USO’s Support of Expectant Military Parents

The USO understands all too well that it “takes a village.” In fact, for expectant military and military spouse parents who are stationed or deployed far from home, their “village” – that is, support networks of family and friends – are often far from reach during their pregnancies. Because of this, pregnancies and early parenthood can be an especially challenging time for military spouses and service members.

But the USO aims to help build a community these new parents can rely on.

Through the USO Special Delivery program, the USO hosts baby showers for military parents-to-be around the globe. Combining baby shower games, local guest speakers and drawings for traditional baby shower gifts, these showers – hosted virtually or in-person – provide a touch of home for parents-to-be who are often away from their loved ones during their pregnancies.

Photo credit USO Photo

Through USO Special Delivery® presented by Johnson’s, military parents-to-be around the globe can take advantage of these USO-hosted baby showers alongside other expectant military parents and military spouses.

But aside from the fun experience of getting to have a baby shower, USO Special Delivery events also provide these parents with the ability to connect with others who are in the same boat. Only a fellow service member or military spouse will fully understand the challenges that can come with expecting a child while in the military, and through these events, they can find support within their own communities.

This story was originally published on DVIDShub.net. It has been edited for USO.org.

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