Michelle Haynes earns her stripes for Uncle Sam and as a mother to three.
By Dwain Hebda, Photography by Lily Darragh
Michelle Haynes wouldn't trade any of her military life—not the deployments, the missed milestones, none of it. Ask, and the Air Force E-6 Tech Sergeant and Airman Leadership Corps Instructor’s answer comes back fast and resolute as a crisp salute.
“Would I take it all back? No, not at all,” she said. “I think it helped us grow stronger as a family and appreciate the time we have together. They understand that I have to serve this country.”
“They” are Haynes’ three children ages 11 years to 2 months, whose memories of Mom always had her in uniform and often in a scary corner of the world. Haynes isn’t oblivious to the pain that comes with her line of work, but after 13 years of service it’s just another fact of the life she’s chosen.
“I’ve had that tangle with me a lot, but knowing that I’m serving my country, it kind of trumps it, knowing that I’m doing something to better the world, you know?” she said. “But every emotion runs through you. Missing your family, gosh, that is probably the hardest thing. It’s like a little piece of your heart is breaking. Especially seeing them and how much they grow in the time you’re gone and then to come home and them look at you like you’re a stranger.”
She didn’t have this in her own childhood, although she had plenty of military role models—her stepfather was a Marine, her grandfather in the Army, her father in the Air Force. After quickly discovering college wasn’t for her (“Definitely wasted my time,” she fumed) she signed on with Uncle Sam.
The military agreed with Haynes, but it wasn’t until the arrival of daughter Keira and son Timothee that her ambition and resolve kicked in. Women were still an anomaly in the maintenance division to which she was assigned, and if it wasn’t exactly a chip on her shoulder, it was something pretty close that drove her to excel.
“My biggest thing was realizing I was a mother and also serving my country and I had to do something in my career to provide,” she said. “I was a female coming into the maintenance world when it was the new age of females working right alongside men. Naturally, I always felt the need to crush the guys, make them see that I was a force to be reckoned with.”
Promotions and accomplishments fell like dominos—Staff Sergeant, Tech Sergeant and today, Master Sergeant looms. She’s completed two associate’s degrees, one bachelor’s degree and is looking into master’s programs.
“The military offered so many goals. Basically you push to make a rank and you get that rank, but guess what? There’s always another rank to chase,” she said. “I’m a goal chaser. I don’t like to be lazy. I don’t sit around.
“I also wanted to show my kids there’s always something out there to chase. Don’t ever become complacent, don’t be lazy. If you’re comfortable in something, you need to get out of it.”
Her service took her to some of the most dangerous places on earth including Qatar, Kuwait, Kandahar, Afghanistan and Mosul, Iraq.
“My first real deployment was Kandahar, Afghanistan, and it was when the Air Force was first laying foot down, so we were the ones to set things up,” she said. “It was terrifying. To say it wasn’t would be a lie. The first few weeks are definitely something to get adjusted to.”
Haynes remembers Kuwait as the best homecoming; the one where her January arrival got pushed to right before Christmas. She touched down in Jacksonville and hopped a plane to New York where her kids stayed when she was overseas. “They were with my mother at the time, but my mother didn’t know I was coming home. Nobody did,” she said. “Christmas morning I had my friend show up with gifts and I surprised all of them. They were just jaw-dropped. My kids were weird at first, they said they thought I rode on Santa’s sleigh. To this day they swear I flew on Santa’s sleigh home.”
Haynes’ deployment prospects are on hold but her husband, E-3 Senior Airman Melvin Jackson, is still in the rotation—in fact, he missed witnessing the arrival of baby Oliver by two days due to deployment. The prospect of future orders doesn’t rattle her; the military marches on after all, and it’s a life that’s given them a lot.
“My kids are very resilient; they grew up with an independent streak,” she said. “After a day or two it’s usually just back to business, you know? You’re grounded. You need to fold your clothes, make your bed and it just all kind of falls back into place, at least for my family.
“Basically my husband and my thing is ‘Know who you are before you step foot outside the house.’ Know who you are because you are going to deal with so many different things, and being in the military helps them experience that. We try to let them know that anything is possible, anything. Don’t let anybody tell you it’s not.”
THE INSIDE SCOOP with MICHELLE
Where were you born? West Point, New York.
Who is your role model? My role models consistently change! Currently I would have to choose my boss, MSgt. Amber Person. She displays characteristics of someone I admire. She carries herself very well. Her selfless nature and dedication to her team teaches me what a great leader should be.
What is the hardest thing about being a parent? To see my children hurting and not being able to take their pain away. From being physically hurt, but more so emotionally. Seeing them work hard at something and not succeed. It's growing up, but as a parent it's hard to watch.
What is the best thing about being a parent? Seeing them put in work at something and succeed because of it. Life will not just hand you things. Hard work is a must and seeing them succeed is the best. Oh, and of course their kisses and hugs. Everyday, when I pull into the driveway, they meet me at my car door!
What's the hardest thing about your job? Growth. The Air Force is continuously changing, and if you want to succeed, being a part of that change is a must. I never want to get comfortable in a job—that's when you start to hate it! My saying is always be confident but not comfortable.
What do you admire most about your husband? My husband is one of a kind, for sure! In life you will meet lots of people. It's the ones who build you up to be a better person who should continue to be in your life. I like to call him my rock, not just because he is huge, but because he gives me that extra push when I want to quit. From watching him in the gym, to raising our children, to being a husband, he truly is AMAZING.
What are three words that best describe you? Loyal, hardworking and selfless.
What are three things still on your bucket list? I want to go to Ireland; I want to work out with Dana Linn Bailey; and become the first female chief master sergeant of the Air Force.
What do you do to relax? The gym is my therapy.
What is one good piece of advice you've picked up along the way? Do not stress about things that are out of your control! Oh, and also to always have baby wipes! Kids, haha!
What is one thing most people don't know about you? If people don't know it, then there is a reason! I'm not as tough as I look, I do have a soft side!