Women mechanics power McConnell's KC-46 mission

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Abigail Klein
  • 931st Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Further expanding McConnell's KC-46 Pegasus capability, the female members of the 931st Maintenance Group have turned more than wrenches, they have turned the tide of a typically male-dominated career field.

Although the 931st MXG is comprised of more than 270 Reserve Citizen Airmen, approximately 40 or 14% of them are women. Despite this number, the drive of these mechanics to support McConnell's global flying mission outnumbers these statistics.

Senior Airman Xochitl Hernandez, 931st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Mobility Air Forces Integrated Communications Navigation specialist, and a traditional reservist, has been in the Air Force for one and a half years. In that short time, Hernandez has learned skills she will be able to apply to the civilian sector where she works as an office manager for Wheat State Automotive.

She says despite the low number of women in her workplace because her coworkers have been very supportive in training her to do her job and making her feel part of a team, especially when they perform quick response aircraft launch exercises.

"My favorite part of my job is responding to a communications navigation red ball and knowing that I played a part along with my other co-workers to expedite the launch," said Hernandez.

Tech. Sgt. Julie Holomalia, 931st AMXS KC-46 Communications, Navigation and Mission Systems craftsman and and an air reserve technician, also enjoys the team aspect of her job. Holomalia was active duty her first four years. During that time, she worked on electronic countermeasure pods for F-16 Fighting Falcons before cross-training into communications and navigation.

She has been in the with the 931st Air Refueling Wing for the past five years and says she chose the maintenance career field because she hated the thought of a desk job.

"I didn’t want to join the Air Force to do something I could easily do as a civilian — I wanted the opportunity to do something more specific and unique," said Holomalia. "Technical career fields weren’t advertised much to me in high school and I figured doing it on the Air Force’s dime was a good option for me."

During her time in the Air Force, Holomalia deployed to Southwest Asia in 2016. Her favorite part of the job is diagnosing aircraft discrepancies with her team.

"It feels good when you can come to a conclusion, order a part and then, in the end, come together to fix the issue," said Holomalia.

Though her current team at the 931st AMXS is supportive, Holomalia said being a female in the maintenance world can be challenging, mainly because of the pressure she puts on herself.

"Sometimes I feel like I always need to prove myself more than others even though that’s not the case," Holomalia said. "I like being an integral part of the AMU [aircraft maintenance unit] and it's fulfilling when I get to answer questions about the aircraft."

Despite this hurdle, Holomalia encourages more women to take on maintenance roles but also stresses the patience they will need.

"Aircraft maintenance is a fast-paced career field and not everyone is cut out for it — male or female," said Holomalia. "I’ve seen a lot of people come and go because it’s not for them."

Holomalia accredits this turnover to the variety of environments maintainers must adapt to.

"You have to be willing to just put your head down and do the work, and endure the wide range of climate conditions," Holomalia said. "Maintenance culture can be really tough and every day brings new challenges — you have to come into it open-minded, motivated to keep working when the day is tough, and understand that you’ll always be learning something new. This job can be really rewarding when you show what you are made of."

Hernandez agrees and offered this advice to future women who will work in the maintenance career field.

"You have to come in with an open mind and be patient with the learning process," Hernandez said. "I didn’t come from an electrical or mechanical background in my former job, but I found many people were willing to help me be familiar with the tools and skills in my new job — all I had to do was ask."