TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Two important issues pertaining to female Airmen have recently been addressed by the Air Force: The six-month deferment for female Airmen to accomplish their fitness assessments following childbirth was increased to 12 months and maternity leave for active-duty female Airmen increased to 12 continuous weeks.
“The goal is to alleviate the strain on some of our talented Airmen who choose to leave the Air Force as they struggle to balance deployments and family issues, and this is especially true soon after childbirth,” said Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James, in a Department of Defense press release. “This change, like many others we’ve made, will help ensure our high-performing female Airmen can continue to serve both their families and the Air Force. In this case, these Airmen can concentrate on their family without the undue stress or pressure associated with returning to their job on a short timeline.”
For Staff Sgt. Tamika Hamilton, 60th Logistics Readiness Squadron customer service support, who recently gave birth to her third child October 2015, the policy change was a “gift.”
“Getting back into shape after each child was a challenge,” said Hamilton. “When I found out about the policy change, my first thought was, ‘this is a huge present.’”
According to Hamilton, not having enough time to get back in shape after giving birth to her second child led to her first career physical training test failure.
“It made me feel really discouraged,” she said. “Although I could list a thousand things that were going on in my life at that time, such as giving birth, deaths in my family and life in general, my downfall was lack of time and not seeking help.”
She gave birth to her third child in October 2015, after the policy changes took place. Hamilton wanted to take advantage of the gift of time and knew she needed assistance to not only pass her PT test, but excel. So, she turned to her leadership.
“I moved to customer service back in April and I went to my new supervisor to tell him that I needed help,” said Hamilton. “I asked him, ‘If the mission allows, can I work out with a trainer at the end of the duty day?’ He was very supportive.”
With the goal of achieving a score of 95 on her next PT test in November and with the help of Kevin Pulsipher, a personal trainer off base, and James Samartino, 60th LRS compliance manager and marathon runner, she made a routine. In addition to squadron PT two times a week, Hamilton works with Pulsipher to train anaerobically and Samartino helps her with her run.
“During this last pregnancy, I actually called the gym where Kevin, my current trainer, works and I said, ‘I’m pregnant, but this is what needs to happen,” referring to starting a gym plan soon after she is physically capable to work out. “I need to make sure I am on the calendar as soon as I am released by the doctor.”
Pulsipher noticed an increase in Hamilton’s drive and focus.
“The biggest thing with her that has surprised me the most is that after about a month in to training, something inside her changed,” he said. “She started seeing some progress and I believe that is the key. She started to see that it was working and she became even more motivated.”
Samartino recently began training with Hamilton on base to improve her overall health and her run time.
“I discuss healthy diets and I focus on building endurance and speed for running,” he said. “I’m confident we will see improvements in about two to three weeks. … She seems very determined and has completed all homework assignments so far. I cannot explain how happy it makes me when people finish their PT test with improved times. It’s hard work, but a great accomplishment when they make it happen.”
Since beginning her new routine in May, Hamilton has lost 15 pounds.
“It wasn’t a crazy diet,” she said. “I cut out sugar and wheat but I still eat plenty of food and drink lots of water.”
Hamilton says her family also motivates her to accomplish her goals.
“My great-grandmother, grandmother and my mother all died from cancer and part of the cause was due to their poor health,” she said. “I’m not the best and I’m not perfect but I do my best to see when things are wrong and try and do them correctly, like exercising and eating better.”
Her surviving grandmother encourages her to maintain her health.
“She says, ‘Tamika, you just have to keep moving, don’t sit down,” said Hamilton. “She has 15 kids, is 78 years old and still drives. She tells me, ‘You have to be strong in life’ and I’m going to take her advice and finish this goal.”
She also wants to set a good example for her children, ages 12, 3 and 8 months.
“My kids are my motivation,” said Hamilton. “I think about having to tell them, ‘Mommy had to get out of the Air Force because I couldn’t pass my PT test’ and that’s not going to happen.”
The policy changes have affected her life in a positive way.
“They addressed so many concerns that have been our realities,” she said. “The six months to one year adjustment opened my eyes to the fact that someone noticed we need a little more help, that the military is really looking at taking care of its people instead of looking at us as just assets, and really trying to retain us. I know there are more Airmen out there, like me, who were discouraged before.”
She now believes Airmen have the appropriate amount of time to heal and to seek additional help if needed after giving birth.
“Secretary James’ decision to extend the dwell time to a year empowered me to take control of this issue that in the past has set me back,” said Hamilton. “I am really grateful that we have someone in her position who understands what women have to go through after giving birth. The Air Force recognized that we have feelings and we have life happening and they did something about it.”