Continuing a legacy

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Janiqua P. Robinson
  • 23d Wing Public Affairs

Very few things happen by chance and often times, history repeats itself.

The June 1997 issue of Recruiter Magazine contained an article entitled “Making History,” written about Terry Cooper. She was a senior master sergeant who was the first-female squadron superintendent of the 336th Recruiting Squadron.

Twenty years have passed and there has only been one other female to hold that position.

“When I learned I was only the second female to have this position the feeling was unexplainable,” said Senior Master Sgt. Josephine Davis-Fogle, 336th RCS production superintendent. “Being in a position like this gives me the opportunity to influence and inspire any and every one, but being a woman in this position speaks volumes.”

Before she made history, Cooper enlisted in the Air Force as a dental technician in 1978, after 10 years she’d done all the jobs in that field and felt it had lost its challenge. So she became a recruiter, conquering challenges in that career field for 11 years.

In 1997, she told Recruiter Magazine, “In the beginning it was scary, because I felt like I was living in a glass house and all eyes were on me.”

In the article, Cooper added that she felt like she needed to set a precedent for every other female that comes behind her and that if she didn’t do a good job, then all female superintendents will get a bad ‘rap’.

Cooper has since retired, but while reflecting on her 21-year career 20 years later, Cooper thought other females were looking to see how she handled it and if she could be successful at it.

“It wasn’t that there weren’t other females that had the rank to take the position,” observed Cooper. “I think some of the senior female recruiters were a little hesitant to go out into the field and recruit because it was a man’s world at that time.”

Not only did Cooper succeed, but the squadron she led excelled as well. When Cooper began working as the production superintendent the 336th RCS was ranked No. 17 in the nation, when she left they had risen to No. 1.

Davis-Fogle marveled at being the only other female to follow in her footsteps and after reading the article about her, found out Cooper was still in the local area and contacted her so they could meet.

“When I saw that article, something just clicked inside of me and I just felt there was going to be some kind of connection,” Davis-Fogle added. “I just wanted to reach out to her to see how she handled it. Things were tougher for her of course than they are for me because she actually paved the way.

“She not only made history in the Air Force Recruiting Service as being the first-female superintendent, but she also happened to have this squadron, which made it that much more interesting,” Davis Fogle added.

The interesting connections don’t stop there. They both grew up in the same area of South Carolina and enlisted in the Air Force with jobs as dental technicians and both happened to be African American.

Davis-Fogle commented that she’s always been intrigued about Air Force leadership and wanted to know who’s in charge. She added it’s not often she sees female faces in leadership positions.

“It’s interesting knowing I’m only the second female to be a production superintendent in this squadron after 20 years,” Davis-Fogle added.  “I think it goes back to diversity. Are we being diverse as we go out and recruit and make things happen?”

With these thoughts in mind, Davis-Fogle reached out to Cooper and invited her to visit the squadron and talk about the challenges she faced when she was production superintendent.

“When she came to visit, I asked her what it had been like for her and if she had any advice for me,” said Davis-Fogle. “She said she had to work extra hard and kept proving herself over and over. She told me to stick to my guns and do what I feel is right. Meeting her was awesome, not many people can say they’ve met someone that paved the way for them. Getting to personally thank her was powerful.”

While offering words of wisdom, Cooper was astounded by how much they had in common and how easy it was to open up to one another.

“It was as if we had known each other all of our lives,” said Cooper. “We spoke about having South Carolina in common and about how our paths in the Air Force are very similar. There’s so much I like about her and so much I see in her that I know was part of me when I was coming up through the ranks.”

As Cooper moved through the ranks, she worked hard and subsequently left behind a rich heritage. One that would rest for 20 years until Davis-Fogle would take the reins and continue the journey.

“She laid the foundation for me, I felt she was a legacy and I just had to meet her and let her know that her legacy lives on,” said Davis-Fogle. “If in 20 years the recruiters and people here talk about me, I want them to say that I was a special kind of production superintendent that really cared about her people. I want that to be my legacy.”

Often times, hard work and dedication are the driving forces that determine one’s path in life, but when the paths of strangers are eerily similar, it can make people question the odds.

However uncanny the similarities between Davis-Fogle and Cooper’s stories may seem, the inspiration Davis-Fogle hopes to evoke in women from all walks of life, is undeniable.

“Achieving this position was a great feeling but when I researched and found out I was only the second, I had to tell the story,” said Davis-Fogle. “This story is powerful, having it told is powerful and I hope it inspires other women to believe they can do this too.”