My Air Force Experience

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Jennifer Barger
  • 9th Maintenance Group

When people look up at the sky and see planes defying the laws of gravity, sound and speed, the first thought on making the impossible possible is not often about the aircraft maintainers. Yet it’s the maintainers and their meticulous attention to detail and technical expertise that ensures each plane ever spreads its wings-and does so again and again. In the world of maintenance, I found that the key factors were respect, trust, and love.

This story is not solely about the hard-working maintainers who keep the U-2 Dragon Lady flying, but all Airmen who answered their nation's call and chose to serve.

I joined the Air Force as an escape from a rough start in my life. I couldn’t go back to where I was before I enlisted. I had to move forward. Aircraft maintenance was chosen for me, as is the case for many of us who enlist but don’t know which career to do.

I arrived at my first duty station in 2001 and it wasn’t long before I was sitting on a toolbox in the back of the expeditor truck. I was usually the only woman in the truck. I would listen, and stay quiet, to hide my fear of not being good enough from my peers. Despite there being obstacles I had to overcome in my life that have tested my resolve, I realized something after spending years in the back of that truck.

It did not matter what anyone's gender, race, or background was. If you were motivated and could respond to maintenance issues with sound technical knowledge, leadership, and a strong work ethic, you could earn respect.

Respect for the mission, the aircraft, yourself, and your peers provides a solid foundation for building trust. Through deployments, tears, failures, and triumphs, I came to trust my wingmen who in turn trusted me. Most importantly, I learned to trust myself and my decisions.

I now realize that fostering a culture of respect in all relationships, both professional and personal, naturally allows trust to grow. When we show respect to one another, trust will form, and before long you'll begin to love and appreciate those around you. After 23 years and five unique airframes, I love the Air Force mission, and I'm proud to be a maintainer.

We see a lot of challenges that come our way throughout our lives. As an A1C working B-1 bombers, I was deployed to Thumrait, Oman in 2003. During Operation Shock and Awe, at the beginning of the Iraq war, I was on the launch truck and there was a “red ball” for me. A red ball is a maintenance issue that prevents the on-time launch of an aircraft, meaning the mission doesn’t happen. I was the only one available in that moment and I remember this wave of anxiety, fear, and excitement hitting me. It was an important mission, everyone was watching, and I didn’t want to let anyone down. I thought I troubleshot the wrong part, but as it turns out, I was able to replace a part for the rotary launcher system and repaired the weapons bay. With the aircraft fixed, it was rerouted for a successful high priority mission. I remember the feeling of confidence and motivation when my Production Superintendent told me I did a great job. I would often doubt myself and second guess myself back in that time. But that was a significant moment, and 21 years later, I realized it was the first time I fully trusted myself.

I was often the one who stood in my own way and eventually learned to embrace challenges as they came. Don’t stand in your own way, step out of your comfort zone, and learn to embrace challenges. Overcoming our struggles results in growth, not only as Airmen, but as a person.

Thank you to the men and women of Team Beale. And to the maintainers in the back of the expeditor truck: your work ethic, leadership, technical knowledge, and follow-through serve as examples for the next generation of Airmen in fostering a culture of respect, trust, and love.