VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
When Royal Australian Air Force Squadron Leader Jaimee Maika found out she was selected to attend the U.S. Air Force’s elite School of Advanced Air and Space Studies at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., later this summer, one of the first things she did was consult with her three daughters, ages nine, seven and four.
“I wanted to first make sure they were on board with moving to a new school for just a year and felt comfortable with this next step,” said Maika, an exchange officer from Australia who has worked at the Combined Space Operations Center (CSpoC) for about two years. “My youngest agreed instantly, but I knew it would take time for the other two to process this, knowing they’d have to make new friends and get to know a new area.”
This type of conversation is a common occurrence in military life, spanning countries and cultures. But what might be a little different from others is that Maika was willing to turn down this once-in-a-lifetime educational opportunity if her daughters and husband were not comfortable with another U.S. move.
“My daughters love it here [in California], but it was already a big adjustment for them moving here from Australia,” she said. “Also, my husband is an officer in the Australian Army and had to transition to part-time active-duty status in order to move here with us while I completed this assignment. They’ve all been incredibly supportive of my career, and I believe they should have the final say in our next step.”
Maika’s journey to be the only female assigned to the CSpOC’s team of 11 international exchange officers—not to mention one of Australia’s first space operators—did not necessarily follow a plan or any initial long-term vision she had for herself.
However, she credits a long line of military members in her immediate family—her mom, dad, grandmother and both grandfathers all served in the New Zealand Defence Force—with planting the seed early on that a career in the military was even an option for her.
“Both my parents spoke of the pride they had in serving their country and the bonds they developed with those they served with,” said Maika. “Although as a woman in the military, it saddens me to think that my grandmother was forced to leave the navy because she wanted to get married and my mother had to leave the army because she wanted to have children. I am fortunate to be the beneficiary of the changes that have occurred because of the women that went before me.”
It was only after a few detours in her own educational and professional journeys that Maika decided she wanted to fully commit her energy and talents toward being a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) officer.
“When I moved from New Zealand to Australia in high school, there was a clerical error that meant I was not enrolled in science subjects,” she explained. “I stumbled my way through mathematics and decided that I was probably better suited to liberal arts subjects, which I eventually pursued in graduate and postgraduate degrees.”
“I was still trying to fit in to a new culture in Australia, and perhaps feeling a bit lost,” she added. “I didn’t apply myself in high school or university so I took a year off and worked at various jobs. Later, I saw a flyer about being an air defense officer in the RAAF, and it inspired me to walk into a recruiting office and enquire about my suitability.”
When asked what she thought the admissions board saw in her to offer a spot at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Maika said she thought that they saw her drive to succeed and her potential to be a good officer and leader.
“I was open and honest to the selection board that I had learned a great deal both from my shortcomings in school and from being in the civilian workforce already for three years,” said Maika. “I told them that I saw this as my opportunity to prove myself and, combined with performing well on the aptitude test, perhaps this helped them choose me for admission.”
Maika’s professional achievements have steadily climbed in her 16 years since graduating the academy. Her first job fell in line with what initially interested her, an air defense officer, which is now known as an air battle manager. In this role, she gained tactical and air operations center experience, and saw first-hand how command and control for air operations worked.
With more than 10 years of experience under her belt as an air battle manager, another series of fortunate occurrences led her to her position now working in the space field.
“After having my third child I was feeling my career beginning to stall and I could see that I was falling behind my peers in terms of career progression,” she said. “I knew I had to make a change, and I had a lightbulb moment of reinvigoration when I received a message that there was a job opportunity potentially for me in space capability. I consulted with several mentors and friends in space-related jobs and knew I had to be a part of that.”
Maika says that when she joined the RAAF there were nearly no jobs related to space. Any that existed were so few and specialized that she did not seriously consider them as a career option for her. However, four years ago she was posted to RAAF headquarters supporting space awareness capability projects, and she has not looked back since.
“I had to quickly learn about space and why it is relevant, not only to the military, but to our modern global society,” she said. “This job led to my position at the CSpOC at a time when the U.S. and Australia are reorganizing to better ensure that the space domain continues to be peaceful, secure, stable, and accessible to all.”
The CSpOC reports to the Combined Force Space Component Command (CFSCC), and executes the operational command and control of space forces 24 hours a day to achieve theater and global objectives. As chief of strategy at the CSpOC, Maika and her team engage with theater, allied and commercial partners to ensure delivery of resilient, timely and focused space capabilities to the joint force and coalition partners.
“During my two years here, I have been part of historic change,” she commented. “I witnessed the establishment of the U.S. Space Force, U.S. Space Command and the CFSCC. And as an exchange officer during this time of great change, I’ve been able to use my unique perspective to support the U.S. Defense Strategy’s objective to strengthen partnerships with allies.”
It is clear that Maika greatly appreciates the opportunities afforded to her and wants to do her part to lift others up. Similar to the U.S. Air Force, women comprise about 23 percent of the RAAF, so she recognizes that she is part of a group of trailblazers, especially when it comes to women working in the space field. Maika considers it her charge to “pay it forward” to others, whether it be through mentoring or sharing her story and words of advice, such as this recent opinion piece she wrote about finding one’s own version of success in a military career.
“I’ve been extremely fortunate to work with incredible women of all ranks, many of whom I seek informal mentorship and guidance from,” she said. “I’m also inspired by the number of women represented in leadership positions across this organization, to include the director of CSpOC and Space Delta 5 commander Col. Monique DeLauter, as well as the CFSCC commander, Maj. Gen. DeAnna Burt.”
One conclusion Maika has made as the CSpOC assignment draws to a close and she prepares to embark on a year immersed in strategic air and space studies is that being assigned to space operations has allowed her to be a similar inspiration to her daughters as Maika’s parents and grandparents were to her.
“After seeing me working in the space community, and now living in ‘space country’ and having witnessed a couple of rocket launches in person, my daughters now know that they can work in the space field, too,” she said. “In fact, my youngest daughter says she wants to be an astronaut-veterinarian when she grows up.”