Since retiring from active duty as an Air Force Captain and Flight Test Engineer in 2013, Molly Mae Potter has continued to evolve into a unifying leader dedicated to solving problems and systematically adding value to service for others. Potter has grown into a national advocate and voice for veterans.
Through her 2016-2018 work with the Veterans Commission in Austin, Texas, Potter connected communities, raised awareness, and identified resources and solutions for improved veteran health and professional transition services. In 2016, Potter was selected as Ms. Veteran America, and she translated that honor into a platform to engage more female veterans in community decision-making and identify the causes of the growing number of homeless veterans.
Potter is championing veteran-led coalitions to drive political change to address the mental health stigma and displacement crises that afflict so many.
“Veterans are glue to bring people together,” Potter said. “We all start out in the military in the same place, and we know how to solve some of the toughest things through collaboration. Politics isn’t what it’s about. It’s about being focused on a mission and what we can achieve for the greater good with threads of selflessness.”
Ironically, that was never part of Potter’s plan. She joined the Air Force primarily because she wanted to be an astronaut.
The daughter of two Army nurses who served during Vietnam, Potter grew up devoted to community service and giving back. She was in high school when the 9/11 terrorist attacks took place and said that at that point she knew she wanted to continue her military service. She initially received an ROTC scholarship but did not complete the program. After earning an engineering and physics degree in college, she entered the Air Force Officer Training School in 2007.
As a flight test engineer, Potter was the designer and driver for high performance aircraft flight test programs. Her primary responsibility was to direct large-scale test programs that tested and simulated the performance of new technologies on aircraft and tactics in a simulated wartime environment. Potter designed and directed state-of-the-art tests for the world’s top test pilots and was typically the only woman in their flight environment.
“I felt like I had to be ten times better to be considered average,” Potter said.
When a flight test failed, all the blame shifted to the engineer, so Potter developed a resilient mindset and confidence guided by the idea, “What would you achieve if you couldn’t fail?”
In 2010, due to her proven expertise and determination, Potter was pressured to serve on a special mission in Afghanistan with the Joint Special Operations Command to solve some difficult technological challenges. Potter’s team encountered an explosion during the mission and she suffered traumatic brain injury.
“I lost the moon at that point,” Potter said of realizing her dream of becoming an astronaut was no longer possible.
She remained on active duty for three more years, but overcame post-traumatic stress and other health issues that severely impacted her quality of life. Potter was honorably discharged in 2013 with a service dog by her side.
Potter describes the next few months as “deflationary” and “beating” as she was unable to find comparable civilian employment and worked at a running shoe store for an hourly wage. She decided to pursue a PhD program in Colorado when she received a call from Dell Technologies, who found her resume online and asked if Potter would consider working as a test manager. She relocated to Austin and still found office life to be an odd new reality compared to fighter jets and Navy Seal operations. She turned to local veterans’ groups for community and shared experiences, beginning her journey into public policy and advocacy and eventually reclaiming her passion and purpose.
“If I had become an astronaut, I would have looked down on Earth and separated myself from those life experiences,” Potter said. “My life has changed, and ultimately it has enabled me to be a voice for veterans.”
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