Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Hope L. Skibitsky leads an all-female military training instructor formation to honor Women’s History Month during a Basic Military Training graduation at Joint Base San Antonio,

Women’s History Month gives us an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate women in our ranks, and learn more about extraordinary women in our past and present. A proclamation of March as Women’s History Month has been made by our U.S. presidents annually since 1987.

Every National Women’s History Month is accompanied by a theme. This year’s theme is “Providing Healing, Promoting Hope,” which serves as a tribute to caregivers and frontline workers, as well as recognition of the way women of all cultures have provided both healing and hope throughout history.

Air Force Chief Master Sgt. JoAnne S. Bass, left, recognizes Capt. Karen Miller during a meeting with the all-female aircrew that participated in a Women’s History Month heritage flight at Travis Air Force Base, Calif.,
Air Force Chief Master Sgt. JoAnne S. Bass, left, recognizes Capt. Karen Miller during a meeting with the all-female aircrew that participated in a Women’s History Month heritage flight at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., Chustine Minoda, Air Force via DoD.

With that theme in mind, AFE is turning our eyes to the women performers who provide healing and hope to our troops overseas. All AFE performers go well out of their comfort zone, putting their lives in our hands and in the hands of base coordinators to keep them safe and comfortable during their performances in foreign lands.

We caught up with Danika Portz to talk about her experiences on the eight AFE tours she’s been on in Southwest Asia, Europe and the Mediterranean. She describes her first tour, in 2015, as “life changing.” And while she had to look up what countries she was about to travel to when she was asked to go to “SWA,” she was still game for the gig.

“I have two brothers in the Air Force, and one has been deployed overseas countless times. Knowing about his experiences made me feel less nervous about going to Southwest Asia for my first tour. It turned out to be an eye-opening, wonderful experience all around,” she says.

Singer Danika Portz poses with military servicemen in front of vehicles during a tour with AFE.

So eye-opening, in fact, that she wrote a song about the experience when she returned home – then shot a video for the song on her next AFE tour in 2016. “The song My Superhero is from the perspective of a child whose dad is deployed,” she explains. “It was so amazing to meet and talk with men and women who leave their kids behind to serve our country. It was unimaginable to me. Now, as a mother of an 11-month-old child, their sacrifice is even more real to me. I don’t want to be away from my daughter for a day – and they are often gone for years at a time.”

See Danika Portz in action

My Superhero video | AFE Tour Experience

Performer Dankia Portz singing in front of mic at AFE tour show.

Portz and her bandmates think of their on-stage AFE performances as allowing the audience to “feel like they’re in Nashville for 90 minutes” and as giving them a break from the monotony of the duty day. Yet it’s the in-person contact on the site visits that really gets her excited. “It always reminds me of my brothers and their military careers. It’s interesting to learn about what everyone does and to see the enormous pride they take in their work. I really enjoy talking with individuals, hearing about where they’re from, talking about home. They’re thankful we’re there, and we’re so grateful to have the experience of being there for them.”

Portz is also grateful for the well-oiled machine that makes the tours so comfortable. “Of course, with the military, the schedule is prompt and predictable,” she says. “We’re treated like guests and VIPs, but as a woman, I don’t feel treated any differently than the other women there. The military is way ahead of the curve in gender equality on the job front.”

Danika Ports poses with Woman Military service member in front of a military plane.

AFE tours have been an important part of her career and her public tours too, say Portz. “There have been many times when someone has come up to me after a show and told me they saw me years ago at an AFE show. It’s so great to know we made an impression on them then, and continue to make them happy now that they’re home.” 

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