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Women of the 21st Space Wing: Overcoming challenges

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Master Sgt. Candi Schneider and her mother stand at Helen Hunt Falls. Schneider’s mother suffered a life threatening gunshot wound when Schneider was just 13 years old, changing her life. (Courtesy photo)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Master Sgt. Candi Schneider and her mother stand at Helen Hunt Falls. Schneider’s mother suffered a life threatening gunshot wound when Schneider was just 13 years old, changing her life. (Courtesy photo)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- On the surface, Candi Schneider had it all. She was a cheerleader, worked on a ranch riding horses and competed in rodeo in Southern Alabama. To most, she probably seemed like a very happy girl. However, below the surface at home, she had a different life; one not so desirable.

At the age of 13, Schneider spent many days coming home to serious arguments and physical abuse targeted at her mother. One day, she heard a loud banging on the wall and thought, "ohh, she might be bruised this time," but minutes later realized her mother had suffered a gunshot wound to the head at the hands of her mother's boyfriend. With the nearest hospital 75 minutes away, Schneider rushed her mother to the emergency room and her life was barely saved.

"It shifted my entire life; it made me a survivor," said Schneider. "It allowed me to regain focus as to what is important in life. I found my purpose."

"Growing up, I started to focus on having fun because life is short. A lot of my hobbies are the same type of hobbies the men have," said Schneider. "I change my own motorcycle parts, go riding and work with my hands."

Today, Schneider is the first sergeant with the 4th Space Control Squadron at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., where she has found that her life experiences and hobbies help her relate to her Airmen.

Schneider said her hobbies help her relate better with the men, but she tries to relate to all Airmen in her squadron.

Women sometimes have to prove that they can hang with the guys," said Schneider. "Most of the time, women do exactly that, but sometimes the perception is different starting out. Having an understanding of the typical male and female activities helps me communicate with everyone."

While relating to her Airmen is important, one of the hardest jobs as a first sergeant is to help members bounce back, said Schneider. After a setback, she likes to help others find the balance in their life again. Personally, she tends to take setbacks as a push to do more.

Schneider is no stranger to setbacks, six months after coming to Colorado, she hiked Pikes Peak with her squadron, but it left her with a hip injury, which she had surgery on twice. Immediately after her surgeries, she set a new goal: to run a marathon. Since then, Schneider has run one marathon and two half marathons.

Besides running and hiking, Schneider has myriad hobbies including riding horses, shooting, painting, snowboarding, motorcycle riding, bicycle riding and photography. All of these activities are not just for the sake of keeping her busy though, they give her a different perspective on life including how she might approach a female Airman in her squadron, she said.

Communication is important as a first sergeant, she said, but having a personal understanding of significant life challenges gives her a different perspective.

Through Schneider's tragedies, setbacks and subsequent rebounds, she gained a perspective that is fundamental to gender relations in the military; people are different, but they all bring something to the fight and each person should make the best out of every situation.

(This is part three of a series spotlighting women in the military. March is Women's History Month.)

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