Security forces officer on track for continued success in Maryland Air Guard

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Rachel Underwood
  • 175th Wing

A toddler's pigtails bounced as she turned to her teacher, Ms. Jasmaine, to share a secret. Cupping her tiny hands to her mouth, Maddie whispered into Ms. Jasmaine’s ear. The teacher gasped and glanced at Maddie’s mother, a woman wearing an Air Force uniform, collecting her daughter's belongings as she picked her up from school. The airman froze, wondering what her daughter could have divulged. Warmth flooded Ms. Jasmaine’s face as she repeated Maddie’s whispered words.

“My mommy is a hero.”

Maryland Air National Guard Capt. Allison Fleming, the 175th Security Forces Squadron commander, continually proves that she is able to excel in both her military career and personal life. In less than 10 years, Fleming climbed the ranks from airman first class to squadron commander while still balancing a growing family.

With that one whispered sentence, Fleming knew her daughter was beginning to grasp the significance of her mother’s military service. Fleming serves for her family, for her country, and for the state of Maryland.

Since high school, Fleming’s life was on train tracks, seamlessly moving from one endeavor to the next. She graduated, went straight to college, and then to law school with the intention of becoming a prosecutor in Baltimore.

Fleming interned and then clerked at the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office with the goal of being hired as a prosecutor, but to her surprise, she wasn’t hired.

“I just felt lost,” Fleming said. “I thought I knew exactly what I was doing and all of the sudden, those train tracks were gone and I was in this big empty field.”

Despite the sudden disappointment, Fleming knew she needed to dust herself off and press forward. She decided joining the military was her best course of action.

“I thought it would be a good opportunity to toughen myself up,” said Fleming. “I’ll toughen up and build up my resume and show that I can improve myself.”

At 28 years old, Fleming enlisted and joined the 175th Security Forces Squadron on Nov. 25, 2014. After graduating from Air Force Basic Military Training, she stayed at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas for an additional seven and half weeks to attend technical training, where she gained comprehensive knowledge of security forces procedures.

As a drill-status Guard member, Fleming worked at Martin State Air National Guard Base one weekend a month and two weeks a year, enabling her to fulfill her original goal of becoming a full-time prosecutor.

“They really balanced each other out,” said Fleming. “That’s one of the things I really love about the Guard. I was a better prosecutor for being in the military and a better military member for being a prosecutor. Those two jobs complemented each other well.”

Following a 6-month deployment to Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates and other assignments to fulfill her military obligations, Fleming found herself growing to love serving in the military and decided to further her military career by becoming a commissioned officer.

Fleming commissioned May 31, 2019, after two months of officer training at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, and went through the Security Forces Officer Course for 14 weeks back at JBSA-Lackland. The training was similar to the enlisted technical training she attended at the beginning of her career, but focused more on leadership, said Fleming.

The course consisted of 24 officers, most of whom were young men straight out of college, Fleming said. She was one of two women in the ranks.

“Sometimes it's really hard to be a woman in security forces and face the fact that some people are always going to look down on you for who you are,” she explained. “That was kind of a challenging time. I had the realization, and it's probably a good rule to live by, that no one is going to give you anything. You have to earn it every time.”’

Towards the end of SFOC, Fleming and her classmates embarked on a 17-mile march carrying 35 lbs. of equipment in a rucksack.

Fleming was challenged by the heat and pace of the ruck march. Halfway through, team leadership was shifted, and Fleming assumed command.

“Something about leading others makes you forget your own complaints in lieu of taking care of your team,” said Fleming. “I cowboyed up and led the rest of the march from the front, and I think the motivation I found to finish it surprised some members of the team. I had terrible blisters for days, but every single person on our team completed the ruck march together.”

Just as she completed her technical training, COVID-19 struck in March of 2020. When she returned to her job as a prosecutor, all of the courts were operating virtually and everyone was teleworking.

"Virtual court was challenging and frustrating,” said Fleming, but the MDANG offered her orders to support the COVID-19 mission within the state. Because the COVID-19 pandemic continued into 2021, her orders were repeatedly extended.

Fleming demonstrated her worth to the squadron and received full support from leadership. As the MDANG’s COVID-19 mass vaccination site support missions drew to a close, her command requested that she transition to full-time work on base. 

Joining the military never crossed her mind, but now it is her full-time occupation. Her military career and her personal life continue to influence and motivate each other.

“Every time I enlist somebody, I tell them they need to realize they're not just signing themselves up,” said Fleming. “They’re signing up their whole family, because individuals can't do this without their family’s support.”

Fleming’s husband, Pennsylvania Air National Guard Capt. Demetrio Vega, has a sporadic schedule as a pilot with the 171st Air Refueling Wing outside of Pittsburgh. Despite his responsibilities, he is incredibly supportive of her career and ensures that she never misses any critical career opportunities, said Fleming.

Fleming learned that she was pregnant with her first child soon after graduating SFOC. 

“I view becoming an officer in conjunction with becoming a mom because they both happened around the same time,” said Fleming. “I was learning how to be patient and not react with strong emotions, but to take a breath and use the logic part of my brain to think the situation through fully before reacting.”

Fleming approached challenges in the squadron the same way. She questioned why each situation occurred and how to prevent it from happening again in the future.

“Everytime she is presented with a situation, she calmly tackles it and moves on to the next thing and I think people see that,” said Maryland Air National Guard Col. Steven Harrigan, 175th Mission Support Group commander and mentor to Fleming. “That’s what makes her so successful. Those airmen know that she fights for them in every aspect.”

Fleming goes into every situation knowing she will learn and grow from it. With every experience, she is cultivating leadership abilities and fostering patience.

“Leadership is hard,” said Fleming. “It's challenging in a lot of ways, but it's also really rewarding when you see people excel and you feel like you are a part of them growing. I think it's really fantastic.”

Fleming works alongside Maryland Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Zayne Arnell, a combat arms instructor assigned to the 175th SFS. He took on every new challenge he faced and shined as a result, said Fleming.

Arnell decided to apply to a one-year tour in Germany, so Fleming set aside time to assist him in building his application package. With less than two weeks to complete the package, Fleming assisted Arnell with rewriting his resume and provided all the details for his commander’s letter of recommendation, ultimately ensuring Arnell would be one of two individuals selected.

“Capt. Fleming played a huge role in my selection for Germany,” said Arnell. “She is extremely humble. She absolutely, without a doubt, was a main factor in why I was selected,” said Arnell. “When discussing the Germany trip with Capt. Fleming, she would always correct my ‘if I'm selected,’ to ‘when I get selected,’ because that’s how much confidence she had in me.”

The amount of support that Fleming gave to Arnell was a driving factor in his selection. She bolstered his motivation and confidence to get the package together, regardless of the roadblocks he faced, explained Arnell.

“Capt. Fleming was the first person I notified when I found out I was selected over 500 other instructors for this opportunity,” said Arnell. “She is truly for the airmen in this squadron, and will absolutely do everything in her power to get you what you need for success.”

Fleming is passionate about her job, loves what she does, and loves the members of the security forces squadron, said Harrigan. 

After her first pregnancy, Fleming grappled with postpartum depression, an experience that has driven her advocacy for mental health within the military. As a leader, Fleming strives to create a culture of acceptance within her squadron.

“At first I was like ‘I have an excuse because I just had a baby,’ but it shouldn't be that way,” Fleming said. “You shouldn't need to have an excuse to get mental health treatment. Anyone who needs it should be seeking it out.”

Fleming sought support from her leadership as well as the 175th Medical Group and, as a result, she was prescribed medication. Fleming emphasized the necessity of pausing and prioritizing your own well-being before extending a helping hand to others.

“Becoming an officer, becoming a mom, and then also addressing a mental health issue that I didn't realize had helped me settle into myself in a lot of ways,” Fleming said.

Because Fleming makes a point to lead by example, other Guard members in her squadron have formally addressed their own mental health issues. Fleming wants every member of the squadron to feel comfortable taking care of themselves.

“I take a lot of pride in that,” Fleming said. “I'm building a culture where people feel comfortable with addressing mental health issues and not being afraid that they're gonna get in trouble for it. I want to make sure people understand that you have to take care of yourself.”

According to Fleming, addressing her need to seek mental health assistance made her a better person and helped prepare her to take command of the 175th SFS.

Fleming was asked to take on leading the squadron as the interim after the former commander, Texas Air National Guard Maj. Elisa Shutler, accepted the role as squadron commander with the 147th Security Forces Squadron in Houston. Though Fleming knew it was coming, it still felt sudden because she thought there would be more lead time before the transition, explained Fleming.

“She’s committed to meeting her objectives and dealing with whatever adversity or obstacles come into play,” said Senior Master Sgt. Linda Musto, the 175th SFS first sergeant. “And she's been able to weather those things.”

Shortly after taking command, Fleming faced a challenge and heartbreak that commanders hope to never encounter: navigating the sudden death of a unit member. Tech. Sgt. Lacy L. O’Neill, who died in an off-duty traffic accident, enlisted at the same time as Fleming and the two had a close relationship.

“She had to process that and work through that as a leader of the squadron not just as a member of the squadron, and I think that showed to a lot of people her actual character,” said Musto. “That definitely helped the confidence of not only the enlisted folks, but also the other officers that are in the group. They saw how she handled everything with poise and grace, and empathy, as well as being the strong leader that you need to be in those situations.”

At nine months pregnant, Fleming officially assumed command of the 175th SFS on April 7, becoming the newest squadron commander at 175th Wing.

“She's very ambitious and very goal oriented,” said Musto. “She has said very openly that she wanted to be the commander of the 175th Security Forces Squadron from the time that she was enlisted. It's an exciting time for her in her life. Not only did she get the command position, something that she wanted to obtain, but she’s also having her second child any day now.”

Fleming receives support and understanding from leadership and other members at the wing. She has found that the balance between questioning herself and having the support of the people around her has empowered her.

“I think that’s something that I really want for the squadron: to give people that level of support when they need it,” said Fleming. “I know how valuable that is because it’s only with other people’s support that I’ve been able to excel.”

Fleming credits her success to the dedication of her family and to wing leadership. Throughout her career, Fleming was guided by mentors who encouraged her to strive for excellence and pursue her goals relentlessly.

When Fleming approaches Harrigan for advice, she presents the situation as well as a plan to overcome it, Harrigan explained.

“She doesn't get rattled very easily,” said Harrigan. “She's very articulate and can get her points across, and I'm sure that's from her background.”

Fleming actively integrates lessons from both her military career and personal life, allowing her experiences to inform and enrich one another. Her civilian background before joining the military, her role as a mother, and her triumph over mental health challenges collectively contribute to her growth as a military officer and leader. 

Fleming’s family and support system continues to grow with the arrival of her son Oberon on May 4.

“With other people's support, I've been able to excel and I want to make sure that I'm setting my airman up to excel too,” said Fleming. “Who knows which airmen have fantastic ideas and fantastic abilities, but because they weren't given that culture of ‘let me help you figure this out,’ they haven't been able to tap into their full potential.”