Airman Portraits: MTL mentors family and Airmen by example

  • Published
  • By Tara Spacy
  • 81st Trainig Wing Public Affairs
So, what's the difference between being a military training leader and being a mom? Tech. Sgt. Janis Petry might tell you that the two go hand in hand.

"When we have our drill downs or other functions and I have my kids around, the Airmen tell me, 'Sergeant Petry, you talk to us like you talk to your kids,'" she laughs.

As an MTL and an assistant flight chief for the 335th Training Squadron, as well as a mother of three, Petry is constantly mentoring and acting as a role model for those around her.

"I look at them as young adults growing up, so maybe that mother figure does come in," she said.

Petry takes a hands-on approach with her children and her Airmen because she wants them to know that they can feel comfortable with coming to her when they need guidance. According to Petry, many of her Airmen are experiencing a culture shock after growing up in small towns, don't know how to balance their military life with their social life, or are supporting a family either with them or back home. In these situations, Petry uses her knowledge and experience to help her Airmen get through the stress and difficult obstacles they might be facing.

"I like making a difference," she said. "For example, one was struggling financially; he had a family at home. So I sat down with him to make a budget."

Petry takes a "no fuss" attitude when dealing with her Airmen.

"Say somebody failed a room inspection and they don't know why," she said. "I ask them, 'When you were here during in-processing week, did we tell you the standards we like for your rooms? They say, 'Yes.' I say, 'At your floor meetings with your floor MTL, do they tell you their expectations of your room?' they say, 'Yes.' 'Well you tell me what's wrong with the room.' And I think a lot of them think it's like their mom is talking to them."

Petry went through two years of college at the University of Southwestern Louisiana before deciding to join the military. She realized that she could either stay in school and be drawn towards the partying lifestyle, or she could join the military and really start to grow up.

"The military definitely puts discipline in a person, and if you don't want to grow up, it makes you grow up," she said.

According to Petry, she had to grow both as an MTL and as a mother. With a 13-year-old daughter whose father passed away when she was a baby and a set of 7-year-old twins, one of whom has suffered health problems since birth, Petry has had a lot on her plate as a parent.

Petry's youngest daughter was diagnosed with childhood ependymoma only four months after she was born. According to the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, childhood ependymoma is a disease in which malignant cells form in the tissues of the brain and spinal cord.

Doctors discovered that Petry's daughter had a brain tumor 80 percent the size of her head.

"I call her my miracle baby. With everything we've been through, two brain surgeries, the chemotherapy, eye surgery, leg surgery, frequent MRIs -- she's like my little rock," Petry said.

Petry's ex-husband is also stationed at Keesler, which has made it easier for them to share the kids and the burdens and joys of parenting. However, Petry still feels the stresses of being a single parent and the long hours as an MTL.

She recently obtained her master's degree in forensic science from Boston University. She proudly displays her diplomas on the walls at home to inspire her children, especially her oldest daughter, and to show what can still be accomplished through hard work and dedication.

"It really touched me that they had an essay that they did last year on who was the most influential person in your life. My oldest daughter actually wrote about me. And I was like, I was in tears," Petry said, as her eyes began to shine.

"It made me realize she understands how much I do provide for them and how much I do wish for them to have the best and to provide the best. It just really touched me."

Petry's short-term goal is to make master sergeant, but in the long run she hopes to obtain her doctorate in forensic science and become Dr. Petry. After all the work it took to achieve her master's degree, she said that becoming a professor is a far-off goal, but still one she hopes to achieve.

"I'm not a quitter. I feel like my biggest milestone to get through was watching my daughter fight for her life," she said. "And I feel like if we can get through that, I can get through anything."