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One tenacious airman

Overcoming obstacles to become Team McChord's 2020 Company Grade Officer

Capt. Melissa Jordan, the Aerospace Medicine Flight Commander, which includes public health, flight medicine, aerospace physiology, bioenvironmental engineering and health promotions, led JBLM’s response to COVID-19. Photo Credit: SrA Mikayla Heineck.

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Captain Melissa Jordan currently serves as the Air Force Public Health Officer at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the flight commander of Aerospace Medicine, and the Public Emergency Officer for the 62nd Airlift Wing.

Her life started hard in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania when she was born to parents who had recently separated from the Marine Corps.

"When I was born we were incredibly poor, living in subsidized housing and on government assistance," she wrote in an email.

To make ends meet, her father worked three jobs while going to school; her mother struggled with her relationship with alcohol.

"I think that my rough upbringing required me to be tenacious in order to be successful."

By the time Jordan was 12, her mother's mental health had begun to deteriorate. A year later, her mother kidnapped Jordan and her older sister and took them to California. In less than a year the two girls had moved four times.

"As a freshmen, I attended a new high school every time we moved," continued Jordan, "and I often did not know when or from where my next meal would come."

Meanwhile, her dad spent his life savings and a considerable amount of time and energy regaining custody of his daughters.

But poverty remained in Jordan's life; she struggled with depression and gained weight from the fast food her sister purchased for her family from her after school jobs.

"The only thing I had going for me at that point was that I enjoyed learning so my grades remained high." At the beginning of her last year in high school, Jordan made a life-changing decision.

She joined a gym, put herself on a diet, and over the next year lost 85 pounds.  After graduation, she was accepted to Chatham University and as a walk-on earned spots on both the soccer and softball teams.

"Life really started to look up for me once I stopped viewing myself as a victim of my circumstances." But some of those circumstances hung on.

Jordan's freshman year was filled with anxiety producing issues concerning her mother's health after she had moved back to Pittsburg.

"I spent a lot of time travelling to help her, which made it difficult to juggle being a duel collegiate athlete, duel major in my first year of college, a member of student government and working part-time," she explained.

When her mother decided to relocate to Florida, Jordan decided that was for the best. A month later her dad moved to Sweden, but they remained in contact. Two months later, her sister and best friend eloped and joined the Army.

"At 19 years old I found myself on my own, my childhood house had been foreclosed, I had barely $100 in my bank account, and I had no solid plan for what I was going to do with my life both during and after college," Jordan related. Despite all of this, she did not quit.

With the help of her sister, friends and particularly her paternal grandfather - who picked her up, dusted her off and helped her with transportation and housing - she stayed on top of her college course work and earned a Bachelor's of Science in Biology and Psychology in 2012.

Her grandfather, an Army veteran of the Korean War, encouraged her to consider joining the military because "he just had a feeling I would be good at it," Jordan added.

"I never wanted to join the military or the Air Force," she continued. "I had slammed the door shut on the military."  She had good reason to do that.

"I knew that I was gay; I knew that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DODT) policy were still very much in play; and I refused to hide in a closet while offering my life for my country that did not view me as a full and equal citizen to my heterosexual counterparts."

When former President Barack Obama overturned both DADT and DOMA, Jordan's grandfather called and asked with a smile in his voice, "What's your excuse about not serving in the military now?"

Already enrolled at Boston University to earn her Masters of Public Health in Epidemiology and Pharmaceuticals, she told him that if the Air Force had a public health officer position she would apply to join.

There is such a position, so after receiving her MPH in 2015, Jordan joined and earned her commission in July, 2016. After initially serving at MacDill AFB, Florida, she arrived at McChord Field in August, 2018.

"My job is to not only be the only Air Force Public Health Officer on JBLM, but I am also the Aerospace Medicine Flight Commander and the current Public Health Emergency Officer for the 62nd AW," Jordan explained.

Her responsibilities grew significantly when she received a telephone call about an unknown virus at 6 p.m. on Friday, February 28, 2020.

"I was asked to advise Lt. Gen. Randy George as well as Col. Erin Staine-Pyne on this new ‘virus' that had not yet been named," she continued.

George commands I Corps; Staine-Pyne commands the 62nd AW.

In confronting this new crisis, Jordan said she worked seven days a week for 20 hours a day to put JBLM on a safe footing.

"For the first time in my career I was answering directly to a three-star general and my wing commander with very little information or direction from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Headquarters AF or anyone else," she explained.

"But once we got our feet under us and we started to receive more guidance from channels higher up, I was able to settle in with my teammates and lead the response for Team McChord."

Jordan cannot praise enough the airmen and soldiers who worked with her to accomplish this mission.

"Success is not an individual sport," she said. "I am only successful because of the culmination of many, many dedicated soldiers and airmen here at JBLM who had a hand in supporting me along the way."

In respect for her work and dedication, Jordan was named the 2020 Company Grade Officer from the 62nd AW and for Team McChord.

Her Aerospace Medicine Flight also won the  2020 Innovation Team of the Year Award for the wing and for Team McChord.

In concluding, Jordan summed up what she thinks of the JBLM community in which she so diligently and well serves:

I see you. I see your head down on a desk at midnight .... I see you when you spend hours to perfect a presentation and all but two minutes get cut away from it. I see you when you haven't eaten all day because you move from one task to the next with the grace and efficiency of a machine. I see you when you pour every ounce of mentorship and compassion you have into your subordinates as you try to lead them through one of the most difficult time periods of their lives. I see your families missing you as you wake first thing in the morning and return well after they've fallen asleep.

You're not alone. You are appreciated and you're amazing.

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