SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Small in stature and voice, at first glance she may not appear to be an influential individual, but that would be a fleeting thought for anyone who has engaged Col. Jennifer Grant, 50th Space Wing commander.
Hailing from New Hampshire and her middle-upper class roots, Grant sought a way to achieve her goals while helping fund her college.
“The Air Force Academy at the time was my best offer,” she said. “That’s a four year college education, five year guaranteed job thereafter and should be kind of fun. Then I’ll figure out what I want to do when I grow up.”
Earning her commission in 1995, she spent the next five years working on opposite coasts in two program management assignments before heading to Maxwell Air Force Base for Squadron Officer School. Grant attended SOS, and subsequently applied for the Air Force Intern Program, with high expectations but ended up learning a lesson in resilience in addition to the assigned curriculum.
“Everybody told me I was going to be a distinguished graduate and I was a shoe-in for the Intern Program,” she said. “I worked my tail off and studied as hard as I could, but for the life of me I didn’t make the cut on either.”
Although Grant was disappointed in herself, her leadership supported her perseverance.
“I thought, ‘Man, I just disappointed my leadership and failed somewhere along the line,’” she said. “I went back to my boss and he said, ‘We’re proud of you. You did great and you’re a great officer.’
Everyone has disappointments and things they want to achieve, but maybe the lines don’t fall quite in pleasant places to allow that,” Grant continued. “You just keep working hard and be ready for the next opportunity when it comes your way.”
“I joined the Air Force because it was initially an offset to pay for education,” Grant said. “I stayed because I genuinely enjoyed what I was doing and I liked serving and being part of something bigger than myself. I took it one assignment at a time.”
It was around this time Grant considered a detour from her Air Force path, to pursue teaching after she completed a Master’s degree in education from the University of Southern California graduating with honors and a local teaching certification, but a chance to work with the National Reconnaissance Office cemented her decision to stay the course.
“I just went to visit the NRO, interview and decided, ‘Wow, this looks pretty exciting,’” she said. “Clearly I found my way. I enjoyed the operational side of things.”
Upon graduation, she transitioned to the Pentagon in Washington D.C., to serve on the Secretary of the Air Force staff and was then nominated by the NRO and selected for the Air Force Intern Program.
Grant served with the NRO in Chantilly, Virginia for one year before returning to the Washington D.C. area, this time to serve as an Air Force Intern and also work as an aide in the White House. She subsequently returned to Chantilly…and while there met and married her husband, Bryan Dahle-Melsaether, who was also active duty in the Air Force but stationed at Peterson AFB.
After getting married, she then headed to Naval Post Graduate School where she again earned distinguished graduate honors upon completing an 18-month degree program.
The NRO then lured Grant to her first Schriever AFB assignment where she served as an operations squadron crew commander and fleeted up to be the Director of Engineering.
“It was a tough assignment at the time because I was working 12-hour mid-shifts, and Bryan was on day staff. But we got through that season without issue. It was better than the 18-month plus geographic separation at the beginning of our marriage.
“Each assignment should be for its own intrinsic value,” she said. “If every assignment is a means to an end but you don’t get to where you hope to in the end, then you’re going to regret taking those assignments.”
This taking each day, and assignment at a time, enabled Grant to put everything she had into each assignment without concern for how it would fuel her next step.
“I wanted to be the best officer I could be and wanted to make as big of a difference as I could,” she said reflecting on her approach along the way.
Her enthusiasm and work ethic set her up to be considered and earn the position as the aide-de-camp for the Air Force Space Command commander. This assignment provided unique opportunities as well as a difference perspective on mentoring.
“I traveled with him everywhere, 270 out of 365 days a year,” she said. “One day I asked him, ‘should I get on your calendar for feedback or a mentoring session?’ and he said, ‘Jen, you get more mentoring on a daily basis than a single sit down can provide.’”
She learned more about mentoring on her second Schriever AFB assignment when she commanded the 2nd Space Operations Squadron, this time from her superintendents and senior noncommissioned officers.
“Mentoring takes a lot of different forms,” she continued. “I learned and appreciated what it meant to leverage senior NCO experience and guidance, and the importance of being connected at the hip with my superintendent and first shirt.”
In her third and current Schriever AFB assignment, Grant was confirmed for promotion to brigadier general, joining the ranks of less than 150 active duty brigadier generals, and placing her within the top 0.002 percent of active duty Air Force officers.
Grant said her mentors, like those previously discussed, helped her get to where she is today, the most notable being her father.
“My dad always used to tell us, ‘You need to give respect to get respect. People can respect you because of the position you’re in or for the type of person you are. The better option is to have people respect you because of the person you are not what you are doing professionally.’”
Grant added her father also reminded her to make sure she’s always doing the best job she can.
“He told me to give it everything you can,” she said. “I live everyday like there is no tomorrow. You give everything you have so when it is your last day, you can say ‘OK, I have run the races as faithfully as I can and what I’ve got is yours to have. There’s no regret.’”
When Grant received the confirmation news, she immediately thought of her dad who passed away in 2018 after a long battle with cancer.
“I think he’d be just thrilled,” she said. “It would be an exciting time for him, and for my mom as well. In my hometown it’s become kind of a big deal.”
Grant gets to have some of that small-town, home town support and feel she grew up with every day at Schriever AFB.
“When we talk about Air Force family, we talk about what it means to be part of a team,” she said. “This community is so tight, close-knit and collaborative, it really has strengthened my perspective that the Air Force is one big family.
“The confirmation makes me realize we’re never doing anything entirely alone, and it’s a reflection of all the great work that’s gone on here, everybody digging in when they need to and doing a great job to continue to support each other,” she said.
Grant said her success is a reflection of everyone in her family, to include her two young children, and her husband, who have supported her every step of the way.
“It’s the service and sacrifice of everyone, including my children,” she said. “We’re an Air Force family. It’s what we do.”
Grant’s confirmation gave her pause to review the past and prepare for the future.
“I hope the return on investment for the Air Force and what the Air Force has invested in me in terms of mentors, education and resources is an equitable return,” she said. “I hope to be able to leave missions, people and places in better conditions than I found them, and I hope to continue to make a difference every day.”