Women Leaders in the Valley Spotlight – Jody Ocker

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This month’s Voice of the Valley is themed ‘Skilled Trade & DIY in the Valley’ however, did you know May is also National Military Appreciation Month?  The Women’s Leadership Committee of the Greater Susquehanna Valley would love to say THANK YOU to all our valley’s veterans and military personnel and their families.  We appreciate you. 
In honor of National Military Appreciation Month, our ‘Women Leaders in the Valley Spotlight’ is shining awareness on a valley native, Jody Ocker, who has transitioned from her 28-year career in the U.S. Air Force, to becoming a community leader in the City of Sunbury:
  1. Tell us a little bit about yourself. 
I was born and raised in Sunbury, youngest of the four daughters of Sidney and Martha Ocker. I graduated from Shikellamy High School in 1982.After high school, I didn’t take a direct route through college, starting at Penn State to study engineering and graduating from Bloomsburg University with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 1989.All my life I dreamed of traveling the world and having a life of adventure. So, as I was graduating from nursing school, I really couldn’t envision staying in my hometown and working at the local hospital. The Air Force beckoned and I answered the call, commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant and going off to my first active duty assignment at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi Mississippi in the fall of 1989.This was the beginning of a 28-year career that provided many opportunities for personal and professional growth, not to mention adventure, as I moved from assignment to assignment overseas and stateside. I retired as a full Colonel in December 2017 culminating my career as the Command Nurse and Medical Operations Division Chief for Air Combat Command. As I was planning my life after retirement, I considered that I could live anywhere in the world. I came home to Sunbury to be near family and to enjoy being in the beautiful region and community where I grew up.
  1. What is a typical day like for you? 
Being retired, I am grateful to be the keeper of my own schedule. I tried being completely retired with no plan to take a job or have a second career. After 6 months, I realized that was not going to work for me. I needed to be challenged. Although my 2 years as City Administrator were not a good fit, I learned a lot about Sunbury and approaches to community and economic development.I am actively engaged in three major efforts at this time: Chairperson of Sunbury Semiquincentennial Planning Committee; Chairperson of ThinkSunbury Committee under Sunbury’s Revitalization, Inc; and running for Mayor. I start each day browsing the news in the Daily Item, cable news, and a couple of news magazines. I check my email and schedule to decide what I need to do today to keep each of the projects I’m involved in moving forward. Then I do that. I appreciate this pace very much. In many jobs, the day is so consumed by putting out fires and taming the chaos, you don’t have time to think, explore, research, or go down a rabbit hole. I highly value the opportunity to do those things.
  1. How do you motivate yourself and how do you stay motivated? 
Primarily my motivation is to have a positive impact in whatever I do…that, and fear of failure.  There have been times that I took something on or was given an assignment and thought, “I do not have the knowledge or skills to do this!  What have I gotten myself into?”  Then I return to my motivators, positive impact and fear of failure, pull up my big girl pants, and do the best I can.  I must like being outside my comfort zone because I put myself there all the time.  It can be overwhelming. To unwind in the evening, I recap the day in my mind and list all the things I got done or made progress on and try not to let my head spin on all that is yet to be accomplished. Then I make a plan for what to work on tomorrow.  It doesn’t always work.  Deep breathing and relaxation techniques help a great deal too…and I’m getting better at it.
  1. Who inspires you and why? 
There is no specific person that inspires me, but I know one when I see one.  I am a huge fan of women who are getting it done…whatever the “it” is.  These women are confident, smart, articulate, and lead from the front.  I am also inspired by leaders, men or women, who lead with vision, compassion, energy, and humility.
  1. As a woman leader, what has been the most significant barrier in your career? 
I can’t say I have experienced any barriers in my career.  The Air Force was a really good fit for me and my progression through the ranks is evidence of that. I think my post-military transition has been challenging.  It’s very hard to go from 100 miles an hour, making operational and policy decisions every day in an organization that had structure and systems I fully embraced and understood to retirement.  One can begin to feel irrelevant.  Civilian life is different and I’m still learning the ropes.
  1. What advice would you give to the next generation of women leaders? 
Some pearls that were cast to me as I was growing up in the Air Force are applicable no matter where you are.  First, do a very good job in the job you’re in. This will lead to opportunities for advancement to higher levels of authority and responsibility.  Once you’ve reached those higher levels, don’t forget to reach back and give opportunities to those who are doing very good jobs in the jobs they’re in.  Follow your interests.  It’s hard to do a great job at something you have little interest in.  However, if you find yourself in that job, do a very good job while you’re looking for another place to be.  Do the brave thing.  Being in a position of authority and responsibility is scary.  Some decisions are really tough.  Confrontation with people who have opposing views is uncomfortable.  Help yourself by making it your business to gather the necessary information, consult with experts, and discuss with your team.  Then make the best decision you can based on what you know at the time.  Finally, never forget that you are leading PEOPLE.  It’s your job to give them the tools and support they need to be successful. Their success is your organization’s success is your success.  Servant leadership is the way.
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