Lusby, MD—Philanthropist, motivational speaker, published author and military veteran Jennifer Foxworthy has overcome innumerable trials and tribulations in her tenure as not only a Navy Aircrewman, but also as an African American and a female. Through racial and gender discrimination and domestic violence, Foxworthy has proven that not only can she push the boundaries of expectation, but she can supersede them as well. Foxworthy opened up to about her time in the service, and how it has affected her today.

Foxworthy joined the Navy right after graduating high school in York, PA, and stayed in until 2013. She was in the service for “21.7 years to be exact,” she jokes. She knew from the time that she was in tenth grade that she wanted to join the Navy. Not only does she have family members from various branches of the military, but she also wanted to make her parents proud. Foxworthy notes that in her city, many people were into drugs, and many young women were getting pregnant out of wedlock. “If I stayed here after high school, I’m going to become a negative statistic. It was the environment I saw that told me, ‘Jennifer, you’ve got too much potential.’” That determination and drive to succeed followed her into her years in the service, where it only expanded as she persevered through hardships.

During Foxworthy’s time in the Navy, she was the first African American female in 10 years to graduate as an Aircrewman, to be an Aircrewman in the enlisted ranks, and the first female In Flight Technician during her squadron tours. Foxworthy describes an instructor that she had that told her that she would not be able to keep up with her male counterparts because as a black woman, her body type would not allow her to do the proper swim strokes. Foxworthy used his words to fuel her fire, to prove them all wrong. “When I graduated, it was an amazing feeling. I marched across that field with my head held high, standing tall and straight.” Upon finding out that she was the first African American woman to graduate the program in 10 years, it registered to her the “journey of discrimination and stereotypes that [she] was about to embark on.”

Her first squadron was predominately Caucasian males, and Foxworthy noted that most of the minorities worked as cooks or in administration. When she arrived, smiling and proud, on her first day, she notes that they assumed she was there to work in the admin department. When they found out otherwise, it was like a record skip. Foxworthy says that senior officers tried to sabotage her training, and while she was able to earn most of their respect, some were so deep-rooted in their discriminatory ways that she could not reach them. “It was extremely challenging trying to learn my profession and trying to fit in when I stuck out. …I couldn’t understand the double standards, the foolishness I had to experience because of my race and my gender.”

Foxworthy was taken into dark times. She began to experience what she now knows is called racial fatigue, after having to constantly prove herself, having to always try harder and work more than her Caucasian male counterparts just to earn part of the respect that they did. On top of the judgement she faced at her work place, she also dealt with domestic violence in her own home. “Now I’m facing two wars: one at home and one at work. How do you even process it?” Foxworthy says she contemplated suicide. “I was under this concept in the military, ‘one fight, one team.’ But clearly that wasn’t always the case.”

Through it all, Foxworthy survived and thrived. She flew combat missions in three different wars, in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq, she logged over 3,700 flight hours, assisted in Operation Anaconda with Navy SEALS, and she left her abusive relationship. Foxworthy has traveled to 27 different countries, and has visited 49 out of 50 states. “I had a chance to do some amazing missions,” she recollects.

Her time in the Navy has taught her strength, courage, and great communication. Foxworthy recalls that during her time, she was instructed on how to communicate in a video if she was captured as a prisoner of war. She was taught to do different hand signals in order to alert others of her danger. While grateful for this information, Foxworthy notes, “I was better prepared to be a prisoner of war than to deal with domestic violence.”

Foxworthy’s incredible story shows that abuse does not discriminate. Even strong-willed, determined Navy Aircrewman can face mental, physical, and emotional abuse from their partner. Her story is also one of strength and perseverance. Foxworthy is a true exemplar of overcoming adversity. Being a woman of faith, she says, “It’s nothing but the grace of God.” To other young women thinking about joining the military, Foxworthy says, “Stay true to yourself and don’t lose your identity. Stay focused, and above all, keep yourself surrounded by positive people.”

Photos provided by Jennifer Foxworthy.