Command Chief Master Sgt. Amy Giaquinto, of Ballston Spa, is the first woman and the first Air National Guard member to serve as the top enlisted adviser to the Adjutant General of New York.
It's a distinction she doesn't take lightly.
"It's exciting," she said. "I hope it shows everybody — women and men — that if this is something you strive for, it's attainable."
Giaquinto, a Shaker High School graduate, entered the Army in 1984 as an administrative specialist at Army headquarters in Heidelberg, Germany.
"It was awesome," she said of her time in Europe. "I handled distinguished visitors like senators and other members from other countries, and I got to go around Heidelberg with them."
After three years in Germany, she took a 10-year break from the service to get married and have children.
In 1997, a friend told Giaquinto about the Air National Guard, and she researched the Stratton Air National Guard Base, also known as the 109th Airlift Wing, in Scotia. While stationed in Germany, Giaquinto met Sam Stratton, the congressman who represented Albany and Schenectady for 30 years and for whom the Scotia base is named. Stratton died in 1990.
"When I first learned it was named after Sam Stratton, I couldn't believe it," she said. "I feel like things happen for a reason."
Giaquinto said that, while she always had a desire to serve, she wasn't sure in what capacity.
"I don't have a long history of military service in my family, so I don't know where I got it," she said. "I just had a sense that the military was for me."
After joining the 109th Airlift Wing as an information manager, she served various positions at the Scotia base until she was deployed to Afghanistan in 2009, during Operation Enduring Freedom.
"When I found out our home unit would be going, I asked if I could get a slot to go, because I did pretty well in my career, but I didn't get to go over and serve like all our folks do," she said. "I felt like I didn't do enough yet."
Giaquinto said she experienced a mix of emotions while stationed for two months in Afghanistan.
"It was scary, but humbling at the same time," she said. "I knew I'd be there for two months, and I looked at folks and couples who had been there for a year, and the faces were young. It was a humbling experience for me, and I'm glad I did it."
After returning from Afghanistan, Giaquinto became a human resource specialist at the Air National Guard base in Latham. She was then selected as the 109th Airlift Wing command chief in 2013, before assuming her current position as command chief master sergeant last year.
Throughout her military career, Giaquinto has been involved in the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program and has served as a victim advocate and bystander intervention trainer.
In 2011, she was named the sexual assault response coordinator-air and has provided training, guidance and administrative support to the New York Air National Guard.
"It's the wrong thing to do, and we can't tolerate that kind of behavior in the military, let alone period," she said of sexual assault. "We're a family, and we're supposed to be taking care of each other."
As top enlisted adviser, Giaquinto is tasked with visiting the more than 10,000 members of the New York Army National Guard and Airmen of the New York Air National Guard to talk to them about professional development, mentorship, education and resilency.
"There are plenty of chiefs and sergeant majors that are in place to make sure they're getting ready for their deployments and receiving the necessary training," she said. "I go out and make sure everyone understands that we're not forgetting about the people side."
Giaquinto added, "We ask a lot of our military members, and we have to make sure they're doing OK."
Giaquinto has already visited the Air National Guard bases in New York and said she's looking forward to meeting with the Army soldiers.
"My favorite part has been going around to every base and unit and talking to the airmen, and now it'll be hearing stories from the soldiers," she said. "They're wicked proud, and they want to show you what they're doing and tell you about their families; it's outstanding."
Giaquinto recalls visiting with the airmen who stand guard at bus and train stations and airports in New York City.
"We've been told that having military presence there makes people feel comfortable and at ease," she said. "And the airmen are so proud to be there. They tell us that not a day goes by when someone doesn't go up to them and thank them for their service, and that's pretty amazing."
In the future, Giaquinto said she wants to ensure the Air National Guard continues to improve the work-life balance of its members.
"I think we're doing a great job on the military aspect of it, but I hope we continue to move forward on the people side of it," she said. "We need to take care of our airmen and make sure they are doing OK and that their families are doing OK.
"If they're happy, they'll do their job, and that's what we want; to keep the organization running."
She also said she would like to see more opportunities for women.
"I hope the military keeps moving forward by giving women the opportunities for all jobs in the military," she said. "We need to continue moving forward to give women a chance."