Women's History Month: Her story - SrA Bieniek

  • Published
  • By Tech Sgt. Carissa Lee
  • 48 Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Editor's Note: The following is the first in a series of articles featuring women who have overcome adversity to become successful Airmen in the United States Air Force. We salute their service not only during Women's History Month, but all year long.

For Senior Airman Annette Bieniek, an inspection section journeyman with the 48th Equipment Maintenance Squadron, where she is today is a world and a lifetime away from where she came from.

As a young girl, living with her large Hispanic family in the Montibello section of Los Angeles, the world she lived in was one that she didn't understand, in more ways than one. Her family immigrated to the United States from Mexico, and until the age of eight, Bieniek did not speak a word of English. While the world inside her home was comforting, the one outside the walls was one where she was ridiculed, made fun of and ostracized by her peers.

"I really thought there was something wrong with me," Bieniek said. "Kids are mean ... and I was teased a whole lot." The constant teasing caused a blow to her self confidence, something that would continue to cause issues for her well into adulthood.

Eventually her entire family learned English together, and she was able to fit in more into a community of English speakers. She graduated high school and enrolled in a vocational school to try and pursue her goal of working in the medical career field. However, she found that things weren't progressing quickly enough for her. "I didn't want to wait the four years it was going to take," she said. So it was time to look into other options.

At first, the prospect of joining the Air Force intimidated her. "Coming from such a large and close family, I was afraid to leave them," she said. "They were my life and I didn't want to leave them. But I knew that in order to make anything of myself, I had to take the jump."

She enlisted into the Air Force in 2009 with hopes of getting a job in the medical career field. She didn't. Instead, she was selected to work in the maintenance field, a primarily male-dominated career field. She said that again her self-confidence faltered, and she wondered how she would cut it in a field that is made up of mostly men.

"It has been a blessing in disguise," Bieniek said. "There were times in the beginning of my career where I felt like I had to prove myself, being a female in maintenance. But once I was able to get my foot in the door, it's been wide open ever since."

In her short four-year career, she has deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, an experience she said caused her to make peace with her self-confidence issues. "I was at Bagram Airfield on May 19, 2010, the day the base was attacked by insurgents. I remember being scared ... more scared than I have ever been in my life, as I sat in the bunker during the hours-long attack. I just willed myself to make peace with my life. I was extremely calm ... what they say about our training kicking in is true." The attack on Bagram injured nine U.S service members and killed one U.S civilian; the twelve Taliban responsible for the attack were also killed.

In addition to her deployment, she has proven her worth, not as a female, but as a maintenance professional in her unit. Bieniek has been recognized as the Airman of the Quarter for her squadron and been awarded other honors as well. She feels that being recognized "as a female," has a negative connotation, and would prefer to be recognized "as an Airman."

She has been at Lakenheath for a little more than four years now, and according to her, the best thing that has happened is meeting her husband, Staff Sgt. Matthew Bieniek, also in the maintenance career field. In addition to falling in love, she said he also saved her life.

"I had a severe drinking problem," she said. "So bad that partying had taken over my life, even after I married my husband. One day, he looked at me and told me it was the drinking or him. And he meant it." She said she entered a six-month program through the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment and she is now no longer suffering from a drinking problem. "It's not something I'm ashamed to discuss," she said. "People need to know that you can overcome your problems, if you just seek the help."

And, overcome she has. She has recently been awarded her Community College of the Air Force degree and plans to continue to pursue her educational goals. What once seemed impossible to a young girl who couldn't even speak English, has become a reality.

"I never imagined I would come this far," she said. "The Air Force has been the smartest thing I ever did, not just for myself, but for the family I was afraid to leave behind."