Tag Archives: women in the military

Female Air Force Major named Director of Operations

Diane Caldera has been appointed the new Director of Operations at Omnitrans after serving eight months as “interim.” It’s a challenge she’s excited to take on.

As Director, she will oversee more than 400 employees responsible for delivering public bus service to the San Bernardino Valley. Her department also manages transportation contracts which provide demand response services: OmniLink, a general public dial-a-ride; and, Access, for persons with disabilities.

When Diane joined the agency in 2005 as a coach operator, she quickly moved through the ranks.  Within six months she took a position in Human Resources, then returned to Operations to work as a Field Supervisor. Finally she was promoted to Assistant Transportation Manager where she spent 7 years managing and mentoring others.

“I like to take the time to talk with people and get to know them as individuals—especially our coach operators. This way I can recognize straight away when something’s bothering them and ask them about it. Their mindset plays such critical role in making sure they are mentally prepared and ready for the road that I want to help if I can.”

“Sometimes I offer advice or encourage them to get their education because they have so much potential and can move up. I want to see people succeed and always encourage them as much as possible. I like knowing that people can come to me, seek my opinion or ask for help—even outside my department. I  like having a positive impact on their lives.”

Diane didn’t have the luxury of a mentor in her own career but she figured things out on her own. Much of her learning was done the hard way, through on the job training. For the past 30 years, she has served in the Air Force and is currently a Major. Going from 17 years in enlisted service to becoming a commissioned officer in December 1999 was a huge goal for her, and now she looks forward to going before the Lieutenant Colonel Board for selection later this year.

“In the military I came up the ranks, especially in the flying career as loadmaster, in an area that was predominately male. I was one of the pioneers, one of the first women to get into that career field.  The decisions I made had a crucial impact. The error of margin for maintaining the planes center of balance was 3/10 of a percent. It was that critical. The plane could crash if it wasn’t balanced. It was very precise, very accurate and there was a lot of training involved. Just that position alone was a yearlong training.”

The skills Diane honed in the military proved invaluable in her transit career.

“The Air Force taught me a lot about time management. You learn to forecast and make decisions under pressure. And traveling to different cultures teaches you how important it is to walk in someone else’s shoes so you can better understand their perspective. It’s a good lesson that can also be applied to the workplace.”

Female Air Force Major Diane Caldera is new Director of Operations for Omnitrans

Diane also put herself through school and earned her Bachelors in Business Administration and her Masters in Human Resources. She pursued different degrees because she wanted to be well-rounded. Her business degree gave her a firm foundation in operations and finance, while HR taught her best practices in firing, hiring and labor negotiations. The combination of these skills has helped her to move up in the agency and has provided a solid groundwork for her new role as Director.

“I love the challenge,” admits Diane frankly. “As a director, you have a higher level view. Instead of being at 10,000 feet, you’re now at 25,000. You’re more involved. It’s about overseeing, streamlining, making things happen, keeping things rolling and ensuring everything is done safely. Instead of providing input, you are now the decision-maker.”

“It’s good to be in that position, but it also makes you cautious. You want to make sure you make the right decision. So you go in with an open mind, hearing all points of view and getting input from all levels before making any determination. And once you make the decision, you stand by it. You can’t be wishy-washy because it will affect how you are viewed as a leader. That was something I saw in the military through different commanders. If you couldn’t make the decision, you shouldn’t be there.”

With the launch of the new sbX rapid transit service only 9 weeks away, much of Diane’s attention is on making sure the line runs smoothly.

“sbX is a bit of a challenge because it’s new and unknown,” she explains. “Our focus is on being prepared, anticipating any issues that might arise and staying flexible so that we can adapt as needed. Right now it’s all about testing, running those coaches up and down, working with traffic lights and station platforms. We’re working on sbX coach operator training next month, so I’m excited for that.”

“Our training team is very good. They had to train themselves on sbX because they have to be the experts. Next they will be training the Field Supervisors, because they must be able to do everything as well. We have to train from the top down. Every possible thing you can think of, we have to be able to do before we can train the operators.”

“That’s why I made sure that I was able to be trained as well. I have to be able to do whatever they’re doing out there. If I can’t do it, I can’t speak to it. And I have to speak to it. I was excited to drive one of the first sbX coaches that came in. I think it’s even smoother than the 40-footer—you don’t feel the bumps in the road quite as much. You’d think there would be a drag, but there’s not. It just glides and follows. Although it’s kind of trippy when you’re making a turn and you see the back end of your coach in the mirror!”

You can read more about Diane and some of the interesting stories from her military career here.

– Juno Kughler Carlson
   juno.carlson@omnitrans.org

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Woman vet still going strong after 50

Verretta Johnson is a fleet safety and training instructor at Omnitrans who also serves as Air Force Active Reserve. She first joined the military just before she turned 22.

“I was living in Oxnard with my parents and knew that I wanted more. I loved being around people.  I loved to travel and wanted a career.  I didn’t want to be that person who spends her entire life in the same little town she grew up in. So I went down to the recruiting office and signed up for the Air Force.”

For years she was stationed in Riverside, never imagining she would ever be involved in a war. Then everything changed with Operation Just Cause. Verretta was given orders for Panama and instructed that her family would not be allowed to come with her. This was a devastating blow because she had recently gone through a divorce and had two small children who were 2 and 5 at the time. The two children would have to live with her mother over the next year.

“When I arrived there I immediately knew why. Huge tanks, demolished buildings and cement barricades were everywhere. I would wake up to the sounds of bombs dropping.  It was a definite life changer for me.  The bowling alley became the morgue. The supply warehouse for cold storage held the bodies. I woke up early one morning and saw a flatbed truck piled with body bags. When the driver made the turn, one of them rolled to the ground. It was a nightmare. Houses and apartment complexes were being blown to pieces while they were looking for Noriega. They would tell us that a couple of hundred people had been killed, but it was much more than that. These were 14 story high apartment buildings!  You knew that innocent civilians are being killed. There is nothing that can prepare you for that. My job was in supply, mostly keeping track of weapons-everyone was accountable for their equipment. Often I was getting up at 3 a.m. to retrieve top secret information from the safe for officers.”

“Despite it all Panama itself was beautiful. I could go outside and pick a mango off a tree. There were rich jungles, and animals like lemurs and iguana. The natives were some of the most gorgeous people I had ever seen in my life.  I would love to retire and live there. The food was amazing. You could go to the beach and get your food right out of the ocean within 5 minutes. Friends in the army and marines would come over and cook for shrimp and giant lobsters for us. We were pretty much restricted but made the best of it.”

“After 7 months I was finally allowed to go home to see my children. My mom hadn’t been letting them watch TV because the oldest knew where I was, and they were always showing pictures of Panama burning and all that. The hardest part came when I finally had to go back. My son grabbed leg, screamed and cried. It broke my heart, and I promised him I would never leave him again. Soon after, the Air Force began downsizing and offering people the opportunity to get out of the military. So I left active duty.”

“Once my kids were grown I decided to return and re-enlist in the Air Force at 50.  A lot had changed. They now have new fitness requirements every 6 months that include runs, sit-ups, and men’s push-ups—things that are a lot harder to do when you’re 50.  When I first enlisted, we had rolodexes, microfiche and binders. Now everything is electronic with ID card long ins. I had to start from scratch and learn new things. On top of that I was training these young people who are my kids age, and they are looking up to me because of my rank and my maturity level. I had to make sure I could train them and teach them what they needed to do. You want to make sure they are prepared. “

“I love the military and really hope I can continue. I don’t know how long my body will let me hold out, but as long as I can do it I will. I would like to put in my 20 years.  I love this sense of commitment and trying to do a good job and knowing that it matters. Coming from the military to Omnitrans was very much the same. When I’m training, I need to make sure that my students know what they’re doing and can do a good job. Just like in the military, anything can happen. You have to know how to handle yourself because there is no time to think about it.”

“I have friends I met in basic training who are still close friends today. We all celebrated our 50th birthday together. It’s like Omnitrans. You’re here for so long that people become like family and you look out for each other. Military was no different. You see each other through births, deaths, divorces, hardships, everything. You’ve been through so much together that you understand each other better than anyone else.  You would never leave a soldier behind or a coach operator stranded in the road. That’s just the way it is.”

– Juno Kughler Carlson

Do you like this story and want to use it for your blog or newsletter? All our stories may be freely re-posted and shared with others!

Do you have a great Omnitrans story to share? Let us know!

Email Juno Kughler Carlson at  juno.carlson@omnitrans.org

Diane Caldera, Air Force Active Reserve

Diane Caldera began working for Omnitrans in 2005 as a coach operator. Six months later she became an HR clerk then later moved into Operations to work as a field supervisor. Now she is an assistant transportation manager who supervises, mentors and helps groom others to achieve their goals.

Diane has also served in the Air Force for the past 29 years and is currently a Major in the Active Reserve. Her goal is to reach the 30 year mark and attain the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

“I enlisted in the Air force when I was 21-years old, after completing two years at a junior college. Back in high school I had been a jock, but in those days there weren’t a lot of opportunities for women in professional sports. I knew I needed to develop skills, so I decided to join the Air Force to learn how to type,” laughed Diane. “I figured if I could learn to type, I would always be able get a clerical job.”

She spent the next four years as an active duty admin then entered the reserve. She became a flyer, working as a loadmaster on a huge 141 cargo plane. “There were not many women in that position in the late 80s, so I was something of a pioneer. I interviewed with three different flying squadrons and one of them agreed to take me on. I was responsible for the weight and balance of the aircraft, for the passengers we carried and the upload, download and security of our cargo. We transported everything from people to tractors, trucks, trailers and disassembled aircraft. I loved flying. We worked hard and for very long hours, but it was worth every minute.”

“The Air Force taught me a lot about time management,” Diane continues. “I’m currently on a medical flying mission where our nurses and technical crews actually fly and provide care on board the aircraft. My job is to handle the scheduling of the mission and to plan the details from beginning to end. How many nurses and technicians do we need? Do they have all their required training? How long is the mission? How far do they go? What lodging is available for the crew? What logistics are involved in loading and unloading the cargo? There are so many things that have to be taken into consideration for the successful completion of a mission. It’s the same with war games. You’re getting bombed and have to evacuate. You’ve lost communication. What are you going to do? You learn to forecast and make decisions under pressure.”

Because of her Air Force training, Diane pays close attention when job applicants list military service on their resume. She knows that those people tend to be process-oriented with strong organizational and project management skills. “They bring a lot to the table,” she says. “Because they tend to be very efficient and understand the broader picture, they often develop great ideas for streamlining processes that help us grow as an agency.”

Diane encourages everyone to go into the military for four years. “Especially the flying units, because I know how much fun I had. You’re able to see so many things and experience so much history. I’ve been to Hiroshima in Japan and saw where the A bomb was dropped. I learned to water ski and jet-ski in Wake Island in the Pacific. Europe is a beautiful country, so green and filled with historic old castles. I’ve seen the Pyramids in Egypt and the underground bazaars in Turkey. I’ve even been to Honduras during hurricane relief. I’ve seen the very, very poor as well as the unbelievably wealthy. People’s circumstances can be so vastly different. It reminds you how important it is to walk in someone else’s shoes so you can better understand their perspective. It’s a good lesson.”

In October 1997, Diane became part of the first all-female crew to fly a 141 cargo plane at the dedication of the Women’s Memorial Museum in Arlington Cemetery. The crew did a fly-by presentation and were honored on stage in front of 30,000 people. Their picture hangs in the museum to this day.

– Juno Kughler Carlson

Do you like this story and want to use it for your blog or newsletter? All our stories may be freely re-posted and shared with others!

Do you have a great Omnitrans story to share? Let us know!

Email Juno Kughler Carlson at  juno.carlson@omnitrans.org