A modern day 'Rosie'

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Laura L. Valentine
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
In 1942, the phrase "Rosie the Riveter" was first used in a song of the same name written by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb.

Portrayed as a tireless assembly line worker doing her part to help the American war effort, Rosie became an icon for feminism and inspired a social movement that increased the number of American women in the workforce from 12 million in 1940 to 20 million in 1944.

While many women returned to working in less physically demanding jobs, or not working at all after the war, many choose to stay in the industrial and military fields.

In today's Air Force, there are 328,871 individuals on active duty. According to Feb. 29, 2012, Air Force personnel demographics, only 62,296 are women.

Whether empowered by an inner Rosie or simply the drive to have a rewarding career in the Air Force, women of today's Air Force are accomplishing the mission and making history in the process. No longer filling the spots of male industry workers going off to war, modern day Rosies are unified by the experiences of the original women who began setting standards of women in the less-than-glamorous workforce. Proving to themselves, and the country, that they could do a "man's job" and do it well.

As the only supertanker fleet in the world, the 22nd Air Refueling Wing is home to 63 KC-135 Stratotankers and nearly 9,000 active duty, Guard and Reserve personnel. Less than one percent of that force is made up of women.

Although there are only a small number of women who perform some of the more grueling and physically demanding jobs, these women are often as enthusiastic about their career fields as their male counterparts. As several of these women said, it is like the best of both worlds - getting dirty and pulling things apart on-duty and letting their hair down and wear makeup off-duty.

Fueling the fleet

The desire to leave Cleveland, Ohio, for the Air Force in September 2008 landed Senior Airman Victoria Biggins, 22nd Logistics Readiness Squadron fuels apprentice, at McConnell, where she is currently the only female "getting down and dirty" with jet fuel.

With 24-hour operations and 12-hour shifts, the life of a fuels apprentice can be physically demanding and stressful. Female fuels airmen have to work harder and prove themselves in the predominately male career field, the 23-year-old said.

Pumping anywhere from 700 to 20,000 gallons of jet fuel during a job, Biggins has seen her share of hardships. "I've fallen into the [fuels] pit before, had a moosehead (part of fueling equipment) fall on me and been in a helicopter crash."

Despite some of the challenges, she enjoys working with her male counterparts in the petroleum, oil and lubricant shop. "It's like they're my brothers. They look at me and know I'll work hard and do it myself."

Biggins' "can-do" attitude and self-proclaimed tomboyish appearance at her job transform after hours into her more carefree and stylish appearance, one which she loves to spend on.

"I have an addiction to shopping," she happily confessed about her form of stress-relief.

Bleeding the lines

Airman 1st Class Tasha Brady, 22nd Aircraft Maintainence Squadron hydraulic systems apprentice, is from Mabank, Texas, and has been in the Air Force since November 2010. As a wife to an Army veteran and mother of a 5-year-old son, Brady left working in retail to gain stability in life.

"I needed a push," said the 25-year-old, "to better myself and my life."

As a hydraulic apprentice, Brady maintains aircraft components and systems controlled by hydraulics, such as steering, landing gear, the boom and flight controls.

One of only three women at McConnell who perform this job, compared to 66 men, Brady finds work challenging but also rewarding. "It's never boring, and for being such an important thing we do, it's not stressful," she said.

Her biggest challenge is the weight of a hydraulics toolbox - 71 pounds. But with the support of her male cohorts, Brady continues to accomplish the job without much thought of being a woman surrounded by males.

"I don't think it's a big deal," she said. "The guys in my shop are cool and they know my weaknesses."

"I have started lifting weights," she added with a grin.

Crew chief

For Staff Sgt. Candice Ross, 931st Air Refueling Group crew chief, joining the Air Force meant carrying on a family tradition.

Her grandfather retired after 31 years of service and her father is currently in his 28th year of enlisted service as an A-10 Thunderbolt II crew chief. Ross followed her father's footsteps before transferring to McConnell in September 2008 and cross-trained into a KC-135 Stratotanker crew chief.

"In this career field, whether you are a woman or man, you've got to have tough skin," she said.

As a crew chief, Ross is responsible for aircraft maintenance and inspections - anything from changing tires to daily flying preparations.

The 931st ARG works directly with the 22nd AMXS, where there are of 295 male crew chiefs. Ross is one of three women.

"In a very fast paced job, you have to be able to keep up with the men," she said.

The 24-year-old, Warsaw, Mo., native enjoys doing the more extensive maintenance - working with her hands and tearing things apart just to learn how they work.

"I choose this field, and I plan to be turning wrenches for the rest of my career," she said. "Even though some days I'm drained from the nonstop pace, I cannot see myself sitting at a desk. I'm pretty sure I'd go crazy if I was put in a cubicle."

Ross' tough skin not only comes from her line of work, but from her adventurous outdoor hobbies as well.

I enjoy shooting and working outdoors, but most importantly, I enjoy spending time with my boyfriend and four puppies, she said.

Turning the turbine

Senior Airman Kate Hytinen, 22nd AMXS aerospace propulsion journeyman, 25, joined the Air Force in December 2008 and is originally from Grand Rapids, Mich.

After working in a dental office, she joined the dirty career field of fixing aircraft engines and can't imagine returning to an office job.

"I love my job," she said simply. "It's always a challenge but it's always something new."

In the demanding field of maintenance, there are a handful of people who don't agree with females in maintenance. You just have to prove them wrong, said Hytinen.

There are only three active duty females who perform jet engine maintenance on the flightline at McConnell, alongside 72 males.

"Seeing a jet [that I fixed] take off is the best feeling in the world," she said.

Family ties with the military helped convince Hytinen to join the service and find the career she loves.

"My uncles were drafted and served in Vietnam," she said. "I figured I had to serve my time too."

Avionics and support

Senior Airman Ashley LaValley, 22nd AMXS guidance and controls technician, joined the Air Force in March 2009 and is from the Layton, Utah area.

As an avionics technician, LaValley works on systems and instruments that are used by pilots.

Although trained in avionics, she was assigned to the 22nd AMXS Atlas support flight. The 23-year-old is one of three women in support, who along with 48 men, perform the same duties - they check out and inspect all tool boxes used on the flightline.

Recently receiving orders to Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, LaValley looks forward to returning to her avionics position on the flightline.

LaValley is a third generation Air Force female. Her mother retired in 1996 after 16 years of service and her grandmother served for more than 2 years in the early 1950s.

For some, carrying on female family traditions includes handing-down recipes, secrets and the love of being a homemaker. For LaValley, her love for baking and crafting are strong.

My favorite thing to bake right now is different kinds of cookies, and taking them into work for everyone to try, she said.

Surveying the land

Airman 1st Class Sharlene Turner, 22nd Civil Engineer Squadron engineering apprentice, has been in the Air Force since January 2011 and is originally from Eagle, Idaho.

Wanting to be a radiology technician, the 20-year-old instead landed her map-making job in a male dominated squadron. There are approximately 300 men in the 22nd CES and less than 20 women.

"There are only two females who do my job, my supervisor and me," she said.

Working outside, dealing with mud, humidity and bugs can be tiresome, but Turner doesn't mind it.

"I like going outside and playing in the dirt," she said. "It's not sitting at a desk and there is so much to do."

And while the squadron is known for more rigorous jobs and strict physical fitness, Turner appreciates her new skill set and the potential to carry those skills into the civilian world after her Air Force career ends.

"I think it's fun," said Turner. "I get to tell people I am a civil engineer."

While Turner enjoys working in the dirt, some of her hobbies aren't so messy.

Enjoying everything from skydiving to scrapbooking, Turner also dedicates two nights a week to her 10-year-old "little" through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, in addition to taking classes towards earning her Community College of the Air Force degree.

These women and the jobs they fulfill allow the mission of the 22nd ARW and the KC-135 to continue daily. These modern Rosies account for only a small percentage of women who make the mission happen, in all military branches, throughout history and today.