“After I joined in 2006 I found a little note that I wrote when I was a child,” recalled Dillard. “It said that when I was older I wanted to join the Air Force, and be a firefighter.”
Dillard, a reservist deployed from the 315th Civil Engineer Squadron at Joint Base Charleston, S.C., attributes her determination and focus to her mother, who raised four children, and taught her the value of strength.
“My mom, who is my hero, is the strongest lady I’ve met to this day,” said Dillard. “She taught me what it means to stand strong, stand tall, and not let the world get the best of you. Having those words with me helped me get through many obstacles in the military. I’ve doubted myself a lot, and I’m my worst critic, but in the end I’ve succeeded because of where I came from.”
In her civilian career, Dillard has pushed through obstacles to reach her goals. Formerly a customer service representative for a mortgage company, she went all-in on firefighting when she was hired as a Department of Defense firefighter at Fort Jackson S.C. during November of 2015. There, she was not only the first female to work at that station in a century, but she was also the first African-American female firefighter in the history of the department.
She found it easier to maintain the right frame of mind, by consolidating here civilian and reserve jobs into the same career field. By focusing on one career field, she’s managed to excel.
“It was hard for me to stay in that firefighter mindset and keep up my training and firefighter mentality, and then go to a completely different civilian job,” explained Dillard. “There was some stuff I didn’t focus on earlier in my Air Force career because I didn’t think I was going to have a full time career in firefighting. But now in my civilian job, I’m finding a new focus on learning since I’m doing this job full-time.”
Dillard’s focus on education has led her to complete two associates’ degrees; one in fire science, and another in criminal justice. Looking toward the future, she is planning to complete a bachelor’s degree in emergency management.
As for the present, Dillard is focusing on gaining as much experience as she can while at Rock Fire Station One.
“This is my first experience as a station captain, so I’m absorbing as much as I can from this experience and bring it back to my civilian job,” said Dillard. “In my reserve job, I’m the training chief so I get a different experience here, which is good. This experience will help me in my job, which will enable me to help others.”
Dillard is also looking out for the future; her own, and that of the younger Airmen around her.
“I try to teach empowerment,” said Dillard. “Just because you’re an airman first class, doesn’t mean you don’t have something to contribute. If you see something and come up with a good idea, voice it, and let me know how I can help you.”