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Air Force officer and single mother rockin’ work-life balance

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Caleb Pavao
  • 492d Special Operations Wing

Excellence in all we do – this is one of the three core values of the U.S. Air Force.

This core value is also something that Capt. Justina Keithley, 19th Special Operations Squadron U-28 Combat Systems Officer instructor, current operations flight commander, and single mother of two sons, embodies in her daily life.

“[Keithley] is hard-working – she’s a great officer, and above all those other things, she’s an outstanding mother,” said Capt. James Ramirez, 19th Special Operations Squadron flight commander. “Having kids myself and having a wife to help me, I don’t know how she does it. She juggles all those things, and she does it incredibly well.”

While juggling her many roles, Keithley carries herself exuding a combination of professionalism and joy.

“I try very hard to make sure that I don’t feel like I’m owed anything because it was my choice to have my children,” said Keithley. “At the same time, life happens and divorce happens. You just have to roll with the punches and make it work somehow.”

At times, Keithley finds that she needs to remind herself that everything is going as it should.  

“There are days I’m so defeated. I ask myself, ‘Am I failing at this mother thing?’,” said Keithley. “Then, the next day I get up, and [my younger son] runs over to give me a monster hug, and I’m like, ‘Okay, I guess I’m doing okay.’”

Even if she doesn’t always feel successful, Keithley always perseveres and finds a way to push her hardest.

“[Keithley] is just masterful at balancing between [career and family],” said Ramirez. “I think she wants to be the best Air Force officer and U-28 instructor she can be, but she also wants to be the absolute best mom she can be.”

However, in order to achieve these goals, she believes in humbly employing the help of others.

“You have to know your breaking point and try not to overstep that breaking point,” said Keithley. “It’s so hard to ask for help, but you have to understand that we as humans have limits. You just have to reach out.”

Reaching out, however, isn’t always easy.

 “It kills me to ask for help…absolutely kills me,” said Keithley. However, she says when she does reach out, she finds people are more than willing to help and prefer her to ask rather than try and go at it alone.

Despite the hurdles, whatever the way is to excel as an officer, instructor and mother, Keithley finds it.

“I think her goal is to be as productive as she can be while she’s at work, and as soon as it’s time to punch that clock and go get her kids then it’s time to go,” said Ramirez. “And I think that’s exactly the way that every parent should be in the military.”