THULE AIR BASE, Greenland — Col. Mafwa Kuvibidila, 821st Air Base Group commander, is no stranger to changes. She was born in Boston, Massachusetts, but spent much of her childhood moving – from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the Republic of the Congo, ultimately landing in Louisiana, where she calls home.
After graduating high school, she joined Reserve Officer Training Corps at the University of Texas at Austin, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in French.
“I went to college on an academic scholarship and joined ROTC because it was something I knew and enjoyed from high school, but the military wasn’t something I necessarily saw as a permanent career,” she said. “The University of Texas at Austin hosts all four services, so I figured if the Air Force didn’t quite work out I could try another service.”
Throughout her 22-year career, Kuvibidila has been assigned to various commands in both space and missile operations, stateside and in various locations in the Middle East, to include Egypt and Kuwait.
Kuvibidila took command of Thule Air Base in June 2018, making her the first female group commander in 821st history.
As the senior U.S. government representative in Greenland, some of her daily tasks include working with coalition partners to support their efforts within the Arctic. This requires coordination with their governments, military representatives and U.S. counterparts.
She also works directly with national and international scientific organizations as they use Thule AB for scientific research advancements, she said.
Though her realm of responsibilities is broad and can be demanding, she said she leans on past experiences and her local leadership team to ensure mission success.
“Sometimes balancing all of the mission requirements, people’s needs and taking care of yourself gets very tough,” she said. “I also have to be in tune with U.S. foreign policy, three combatant commands, the U.S. Embassy in Copenhagen, Denmark as well as what our coalition partners are doing. That can be a lot to keep up with, but I’m fortunate that my past experience helps me in navigating through the various organizations and I have a strong leadership team to work not only issues, but opportunities.”
One of the biggest lessons Kuvibidila said she has learned is how to take time to reflect and apply lessons learned in her personal and professional life.
When reflecting on women who have inspired her over the years, one woman stands out among the rest: her mother.
“My mom is brilliant and very adventurous; her perseverance is the biggest lesson she taught me,” Kuvibidila said. “As a kid from a small village in the Congo, she had to fight for her education and challenge the typical expectations of young girls at the time. She eventually made it to the U.S. on an academic scholarship in her twenties with little English and managed to finish her master’s and doctorate degrees as a single parent. She also took care of family members back home while balancing demands in the U.S. Things were not always easy, but she made them easy for me.”
Kuvibidila has also drawn inspiration from her fellow service members and friends, she said.
“I’ve also been influenced by several of my female peers who help keep me in check,” she said. “I’m incredibly fortunate to know several fellow female commanders, and I have tremendous friends who are my sisters from another mother.”
Kuvibidila’s advice to young women in the Air Force is simple: be adaptable, supportive and think outside the box.
“Adaptability and perseverance are critical to success,” she said. “Don’t hesitate to push boundaries, propose new ideas and think outside the box. Communication is essential, so ask for clarification. Call people, even if you don’t know them and don’t be afraid to ask for help or lean on others. Patience is crucial in some of the battles you choose, but if it matters, invest the time. Most importantly, be supportive and mentor each other, especially on the peer-to-peer level.”