Editorial Note: This story is the first installment of NIWC Atlantic’s Veterans Month Campaign, a feature series celebrating the incredible accomplishments of NIWC Atlantic’s Veteran workforce. During this special Veterans Month tribute, readers are encouraged to learn from the personal experiences of those spotlighted and the unique ways their contributions are blazing new trails for future generations to come.
Bridget Rencher came from very humble beginnings. In fact, her family didn’t have indoor plumbing until she was 10 years old.
The daughter of a sharecropper, Rencher grew up working in tobacco fields until her junior year of high school.
Job opportunities in her hometown of Stillmore, Georgia, a small town with one traffic light, seemed limited to mostly manufacturing jobs.
College seemed out of reach and it was never really talked about within her household.
So when the Air Force recruiter visited her high school, Emanuel County Institute, the start of her senior year, Rencher was sold on traveling the world, starting a career, and getting an education.
“Being the youngest of six siblings with a five-year age gap gave me a lot of time dreaming of the life I wanted; some call it a “vision boarding,” said Rencher. “Hearing the recruiter, it was as if my prayers had been answered.”
Rencher joined the Air Force in the delayed enlistment program in March 1985, graduated high school in May, and boarded the airplane, first flight ever, to basic training that September.
Her new career would be in munitions supply, a field that had recently opened its pipeline to female recruitment, a field that opened Rencher’s eyes to needed changes for women and minorities in the military.
“And I wanted to be a part of that change,” Rencher said. This aspiration would be something that would shape her career in the future.
Some of the challenges and “isms” she faced throughout the next several years impacted her both personally and professionally. However, her strong work ethic and “hard-charging” spirit helped her forge a lucrative career despite the numerous hurdles she had to overcome.
“Although my parents’ highest academic level was 6th grade, they taught me great values like integrity, excellence, hard work,” Rencher said.
Though she had been an expert working with sharecropping equipment, learning to use military weapons and gear, and drive military vehicles, didn’t come so easily.
Her first assignment in the military was with the Royal Air Force Greenham Common, England (UK), working in nuclear ordnance commodity management.
“I went from the tobacco fields to reporting nuclear weapon status to the Secretary of Defense,” Rencher said.
“I recall being voluntold to learn how to drive a MAN Military Vehicle, a tractor used for ground launched cruise missiles, and I didn’t even know how to drive a stick-shift car,” Rencher said. “It was an epic fail, but I gave it my best. So what that I forgot to look up when shifting gears.”
While stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, the Home of the B-2 Bomber, Rencher worked a job that gave her great responsibility supporting the B-2. She worked in stockpile management maintaining inventory control of “classified” parts/spares for the aircraft.
Ten years after joining the Air Force, Rencher made a career change into the military Equal Opportunity (EO) career field, graduating from the DoD Equal Opportunity Management Institute at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida in 1995.
In 1998, she earned two associate degrees, one in social services and the other in munitions systems technology from the Community College of the Air Force at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, Alabama.
She served in a variety of EO positions including, as the Equal Opportunity Superintendent, 325th Fighter Wing, Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida; Chief of Equal Opportunity, 65th Air Base Wing, Lajes Field, Azores; Superintendent, Equal Opportunity, "President's Wing" 89th Airlift Wing, Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland; and Headquarters U.S. Air Forces Europe, Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
In all, Rencher and her two daughters traveled and lived in three European countries and seven continental states.
“My daughters and I experienced different cultures and made countless life-long friends,” said Rencher. “Making Chief Master Sergeant and the plethora of job opportunities were a bonus.”
In 2006, Rencher became the first African-American Female Chief Master Sergeant in the Air Force EO career field. Chief Master Sergeants make up the top one percent of senior enlisted personnel in the Air Force. With Rencher’s new rank, she was also in the top one percent of females, African Americans and EO personnel in the Air Force.
“Making Chief was like accomplishing the unthinkable, one percent (AF) of the one percent (Female) of the one percent (African American) of the one percent (EO field) for me,” said Rencher. “Words cannot express the joy I felt when I first learned of my promotion. It felt like time stopped. I recall standing in the mirror, with tears rolling, and thanking God for His favor.”
This accomplishment had ripple effects for African-American females who followed behind her.
“My journey and constant struggle for equality of opportunity paved the way for other African American females in the EEO profession to reach their full potential,” said Rencher. “I want to believe my plight to Chief was “notable” enough and “noticeable” enough to effectuate real change in my small, but important, career field.”
A significant accomplishment she achieved was developing the footprint for EO Chiefs deploying to an area of operations (AOR) with the troops, defining their roles and responsibilities, making Chief Master Sergeants senior strategic advisors. Her efforts enabled Chiefs to have direct leadership support and functional oversight over the junior EEO professionals in the AOR, solidifying the AF chain of command across the services, increasing morale, and sustaining dignity and respect in war zones.
After 24 years of service in the Air Force, Rencher retired in 2009 while assigned at Headquarters Air Mobility Command, Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. There, she was re-hired as a civilian in the position of EEO Deputy Director and Chief of Human Relations and Workforce Diversity Branch.
Two years later, she earned a Bachelor of Science in workforce education and development from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois,
In 2015, Rencher moved to Fort Belvoir, Virginia, where she became the Deputy Director of EEO and Diversity, Headquarters Defense Logistics Agency until October 2016, when she joined the Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Atlantic team in Charleston, South Carolina as Deputy Director for Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) and Diversity.
“In all of these positions, she has been a constant advocate for equality, diversity and inclusion and a true ‘voice of the people,’” said NIWC Atlantic Commanding Officer Capt. Nicole Nigro.
Currently, Rencher is the Director for EEO and Diversity and is responsible to direct the program execution of EEO compliance, complaints management, sexual harassment, reasonable accommodations, affirmative employment, special emphasis programs and diversity and inclusion, servicing more than 4,900 federal civilians and 125 military employees across five continents.
Rencher also provides technical oversight and direction for NIWC Atlantic executive leaders who collectively influence the strategic direction of the organization’s diversity and inclusion practices. Rencher advocates for command resources and measures iterative progress.
Through her role, Rencher has positively impacted the warfighter and NIWC Atlantic’s mission of delivering information warfare by strengthening the leadership’s pledge to inclusion through the inception of the Executive Diversity Council and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Accessibility Strategy aimed at building a diverse workforce that promotes opportunities for all people to excel and contribute to the information warfare enterprise.
During her tenure at NIWC Atlantic, Rencher obtained the command’s first multi-services contract for sign language interpreting, Personal Assistance Services, and Complaint Counseling and Investigations – “all designed to provide champion service for a productive and successful workforce,” Rencher said.
Rencher credits her mentors and leaders for helping her make such strides in her career.
“They trusted my leadership and decision-making supporting the EEO program,” said Rencher. “More importantly, they supported my team and championed manpower and fiscal resources to execute program objectives.”
Rencher said she is thankful for her teammates who have helped the command accomplish its EEO mission and provided much support to her as she served as head of EEO at NIWC Atlantic. She said without their efforts, the program would not be as successful as it has been.
“They are the heartbeat of the command’s EEO operations,” said Rencher. “We all feel we’re in a thankless job at one point or another but when you have people stopping by and thanking us for what we do, that type of gratitude goes a long way. Our sole purpose is to come to work and listen to people’s problems, and yet we do it with such grace.”
Rencher has a combined total of 38 years, military and civilian, with the DoD that encompasses 28 years of equal opportunity experience.
“She is a decorated veteran who has spent a life-long career championing equal opportunities by educating others on diversity and inclusion,” said Nigro. “During her long and distinguished career, her contributions to this command, to the Air Force and the Navy reflected exceptional dedication and commitment to excellence.”
At the end of this year, Rencher will close out her civilian career and retire from NIWC Atlantic.
“It was has been my distinct pleasure to serve with a great group of people, who I call family,” Rencher said.
As a professional who blazed new trails and opened doors for leaders who are following behind her, she offers some parting advice.
“Give and receive grace liberally, accept that everyone needs help, realize [its] bigger than you and never let disappointment/failure define the trajectory of your life, personally or professionally.”
Rencher encourages women, specifically, to continue to break glass ceilings and always keep in mind the famous quote from late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, "Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn't be that women are the exception."
About NIWC Atlantic
As a part of Naval Information Warfare Systems Command, formerly known as SPAWAR, NIWC Atlantic provides systems engineering and acquisition to deliver information warfare capabilities to the naval, joint and national warfighter through the acquisition, development, integration, production, test, deployment, and sustainment of interoperable command, control, communications, computer, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, cyber and information technology capabilities.
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