McConnell maintainers find value in diversity

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt Jessica Brown
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
(Editor's note: This is one article in a series about the diverse climate at McConnell Air Force Base)

McConnell employs more than 3,000 Airmen from various ethnicities, cultures and backgrounds and the 22nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron uses more than 700 Airmen who exemplify that diversity to refuel airpower 24/7, 365 days a year.

Lt. Col. Christine Peyton, 22nd AMXS commander, appreciates the importance of diversity within the Air Force and the maintenance career field and has seen the Air Force take strides to diversify the force.

Peyton enlisted in the Air Force in 1991, as a communications and navigation avionics specialist on F-111s.  Before that time, the first female and African American had not been promoted to the rank of Brigadier General yet.

"Today, I command Airmen from various backgrounds, from all over United States and the world," said Peyton. "I have learned more from them then I could have ever imagined.  Our diversity strengthens our talents and allows us to apply unique perspectives to overcome our greatest challenges and get the mission done."

The 22nd AMXS has Airmen from Alaska, the Caribbean and Asia, but this diversity is more than just different ethnicities; it's diverse in backgrounds, thoughts and experiences.

"Our unit is like a small sample of America," said Senior Airman Johanna Magner, 22nd AMXS crew chief.  "We spend a lot of time together, and I've had the opportunity to learn about Airmen from other cultures, backgrounds and faiths."

Magner learned diversity brings unique problem solving abilities, solutions and "outside-the-box thinking" to the fight.

"When you hear people say 'blue collar,' a lot of times you think white male in his mid-thirties," Magner said. "But, that's just not the case in the Air Force anymore. We're a mixture of backgrounds, and as a team we get the job done."

In order to benefit from diversity, Airmen must embrace each other's strengths, perspectives and capabilities and understand that their leadership is there to support them. Magner said every once in a while she can still run into closed-minded thinking.

"Being in a predominately male career field, I find there are some Airmen who expect that I'll be fragile or weak," said Magner. "But, after they get to know me, they learn that I'm not this dainty, weak, helpless woman.  I'm strong, I work just as hard as they do, and I don't expect favors."

On her first deployment, Magner said another Airman admitted to her he was concerned she might require special assistance to accomplish the mission because she was a woman.

"After I was there for a few days he admitted to me that he had judged me prematurely," Magner said. "He wasn't rude about it, but he did have this preconceived notion that female mechanics might need special treatment. I was able to prove that as a team we could accomplish more together than separately."

In order to effectively accomplish the mission, Peyton said it is necessary to embrace each Airman's strengths, perspective and capabilities.

"There will be times when we'll all need help; it's just a matter of knowing our limits," said Peyton. "I make it a point to rate each of my Airmen based on their ability to do their job."

When she was a young Airman, the current 22 AMXS squadron commander learned the importance of an environment that encourages respect, inclusion and mentorship from her first squadron commander, Lt. Col. Sally Curran, who was also an aircraft maintenance officer as well.

"She and my direct supervisors took an interest in my development and helped me earn a commission," Peyton said. "Today, I get the opportunity to mentor and work with Airmen from all over, and that's one of my favorite parts about this job."

Peyton still seeks guidance from Curran, whom she considers a life mentor, and she encourages her Airmen to come to her in the same way. 

Magner said she is especially inspired by Peyton and her direct supervisors.

"My supervisors have come from different backgrounds as well, and it's easier to go to them with concerns, because I know they accept us," Magner said. "They're a beacon of light for Airmen who may have experienced adversity whether before or after they joined the Air Force."

Peyton has one piece of advice for Airmen young and old.

"Never underestimate the abilities of women no matter which career field they work in," she said. "I have a lot of kick-butt Airmen - I need more like them."