USSF Col Krolikowski Shares Her Spark for Life with the L.A. Sparks

  • Published
  • By Kimberly J. Locke, SSC Public Affairs
Col. Jennifer M. Krolikowski, chief information officer, Space Systems Command (SSC), U.S. Space Force, shared some of her experiences as a military leader, woman, wife, and mother during a motivational talk to members of the Los Angeles Sparks, a women’s professional basketball team, on April 29.

Not that the Sparks, one of three original franchises in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), are any strangers to motivation. The team has won three WNBA Championships and has qualified for the playoffs in 20 of their 25 seasons. They remain the only active team in the league to win back-to-back titles as a member club of the league’s Western Conference.

Sparks head coach Derek Fisher took note of the close proximity of SSC to one of the team’s training facilities, the UCLA Health Training Center, just a few blocks away in El Segundo, California.

“As I was driving by Los Angeles Air Force Base one day I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to invite one of the military leaders to speak to the team and share some of their experiences, especially with stressful situations?” said Fisher.

The timing couldn’t have been any better given the Sparks were set to play their final pre-season game against the Phoenix Mercury the following day.

During the meet up, and after a brief introduction by Fisher, Col. Krolikowski shared a summary of her education, military, and personal experiences highlighting challenges and lessons learned along the way.

Col Krolikowski said she knew from the age of six that she wanted to focus on science for her career. Later, when she realized her family wouldn’t be able to afford to pay for college, she chose to join the U.S. Air Force, which would cover the cost of a four-year college education. She earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Dayton, Ohio, and then a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology on Wright-Patterson AFB.

Col Krolikowski reflected on her various military assignments ranging from Wright-Patterson AFB; to Peterson Space Force Base, then known as Peterson Air Force Base, in Colorado Springs, Colorado; and even at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., among others. She has also logged more than 50 flight hours in a B-52 strategic bomber and participated in a study on the physiological effects of pulling a gravitational force equivalent of nine, which is equal to more than 2,000 pounds on the body.

Many of the assignments came with challenges, both on a personal and professional level.

“I had to ask myself, how do I cope with these types of toxic situations?” she said. “Back then, mental health was not a concern so I had to dig down and find personal strength to cope.”

It was an opportunity with the Global Positioning System program office at what was then the Space and Missile Systems Center, now SSC, which gave her a career and morale boost. “I was offered the position of being one of the colonel’s executive officers and from there my career took off. I guess he saw something in me and I began to realize how much I love solving problems. This is why, to this day, I continue to tackle the hardest problems and deliver solutions that make our lives fundamentally better. He and I are still good friends today,” she said.

Col Krolikowski also shared some of the challenges she experienced as a working wife and later mother to twin sons. The strain on a dual military career couple can be very real, she said, especially if trying to pursue higher education at the same time. Col. Krolikowski earned a master’s degree in military operational art and science from Air Command and Staff College, Maxwell AFB, Alabama, and a master’s degree in strategic studies from Air War College, also from Maxwell AFB, while co-parenting her sons.

“Realize you have a lot of inner strength to get through the challenges,” she said.

Col. Krolikowski faced a different kind of career challenge when she interviewed for a position as a staff member for a three-star general. Unfortunately, the post required long hours and, at the time, she was co-parenting her twins so her schedule couldn’t accommodate the requirements.

“The interview was going fine until he asked if I could be available from say, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.,” she said. “When I told him that every other week I have my sons and would need to work fewer hours during those weeks, I could see the interview going downhill and I didn’t get the job.”

These questions are not usually asked of a man interviewing for a job, which is unfair, she said. “It’s a double standard.”

Fortunately, another opportunity within the same office opened up only this time it was something that fit her schedule. Col. Krolikowski was offered the position and accepted.

In her current position, Col. Krolikowski said she enjoys overseeing and delivering new capabilities to the warfighter. “Amazing things can happen when you ask, why are we doing this? What can I contribute?

She encouraged the Sparks to follow their dreams and desires and not let setbacks be a hindrance.

“Sometimes people can’t see you in other roles so it’s up to you to help open their eyes to other talents and aspirations you may have and not get pigeonholed. Don’t let anyone take that spark away,” said Col. Krolikowski.

 “Put your passion into it, change the organization’s culture for the better, and let people know they have value and how they can contribute,” she recommended.

After her talk, players were given the opportunity to ask questions, one of which focused on effective ways of operating under stressful conditions.

“Instead of work-life balance I like to say, life-work balance. You see how just flipping that around changes the focus?” Col Krolikowski asked. “Try to look where you can make positive changes.”

Another player expressed her gratitude to Col. Krolikowski for her service, and said, “it’s refreshing to know people like you are protecting us.”