KSLA Salutes: 2nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron’s all-female unit
Meet Maj. Ellen Williams, 2nd Lt. Kaylee Lima and Capts. Courtney Bradburry, Emonna Kelly, Alice Moore and Tia Robles
BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. (KSLA) — The 2nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron maintains the 2nd Bomb Wing’s B-52 fleet. The squadron has three aircraft maintenance units, a commander’s support section and a maintenance supervision section.
There are approximately 750 professional maintenance technicians assigned to the squadron. And those dedicated, hardworking airmen have a job to do every day maintaining the 2nd Bomb Wing’s B-52s and ensuring that the 28 bombers continue to fly. It takes roughly six hours of preparation ahead of a scheduled flight.
Members of an all-female maintenance unit at Barksdale Air Force Base work alongside their fellow airmen aware of the differences they have but say it’s that diversity that makes them stronger as a squadron.
KSLA Salutes is highlighting the professional maintenance technicians in the all-female unit.
Maj. Ellen Williams is a 2nd AMXS maintenance operations officer at Barksdale. As a high school junior, she joined the Air Force through the delayed enlistment program. Williams became an aircraft mechanic, which led her to a commission as an aircraft maintenance officer.
“What got me interested in serving in the Air Force is I actually started with the Army Explorers Group when I was in high school,” Williams explained. “I determined I wanted to work on aircraft of some sort.
"Originally, I was going to go into the Army. When I went to the recruiter, they said most of the women work in the office; so I went next door to the Air Force recruiter. They said I could work on aircraft and I was a go for that.”
Williams has spent the past 19 years in uniform, serving 15 years in the Air Force plus four years in the U.S. Air Force Academy.
“I enlisted and I worked on the F-15 as a jet engine mechanic,” she said. “I then went to the Air Force Academy, went through the lead program, then I transitioned to a 21 Alpha, (21AX) which is a maintenance aircraft officer. And since then, I have been on multiple different platforms from the C-17, F-22 to the RQ-4 Global Hawk and now here at Barksdale on the B-52. I’ve been here about a year and a half and I love it here."
“A regular day starts out with going over the aircraft status — what we have flown, what we have done, what we have executed and what we are going to execute," Williams explained. "We talk long-range planning, we talk the short-range schedule. We talk about the fleet health, ensure our aircraft are in good health and ready to go. We talk about what our pilots are doing, what the requirements are and make sure they are fully ready.”
Williams says the diverse group of Airmen come together daily to help complete the mission.
“This maintenance group is extremely dynamic,” Williams continued. “We have a great leadership team from the top down. We have a diverse mission. We are called upon, and I’m going to be honest with you, I’ve never had an experience like this where so many people are ready to go, everybody is ready to execute the mission. And the B-52 brings a whole other dynamic to the fight. Our strategic bomber, we do a multiple of different missions and it makes us extremely dynamic.”
Williams says she loves working alongside her fellow Airmen in the all-female maintenance unit.
“It feels pretty awesome,” Williams said, “It’s great to get to work with them. They all bring different experiences to the maintenance group and to AMXS. It’s not really specific as far as it’s just a women thing, it just adds another level of diversity to what we do, how we do it and how we think. It’s always a good day.”
Her husband also is on active duty and currently deployed. She is a mom to three children, her 4-year-old daughter and her 2-year-old twin sons. Williams is a former enlisted aircraft mechanic commissioned through the Air Force Academy. Her father and uncle served.
The Air Force has taught me about family," Williams said. “That family is more than just your blood relatives. The Air Force is everyone out here on this ramp, everyone in your unit; everyone is a part of your family. You do a lot of different things for those people that you work with that sometimes family won’t even do for you. It’s about the community and it’s about the Air Force and helping each other out. Understanding each other. That’s where I think the diversity is so important.”
Capt. Alice Moore is the assistant maintenance operations officer for the 2nd AMXS at Barksdale Air Force Base.
“I grew up a military brat,” said Moore, whose father served in the U.S. Army. “By the time I was 15, I had already lived in three states and two different countries.”
She said she spent a few years in college before she decided she wanted to travel the world and earn more money for school. Moore went to a recruiter’s office and joined the Air Force in 2001.
She initially wanted to serve four years then leave the service but ended up enjoying her experiences in the Air Force. “Nineteen years later, here I am.
“One of the highlights in my career is definitely being able to deploy, serving in Iraq as a public affairs airman at the time,” Moore said. "That was a wonderful experience because of the interactions I had with everybody abroad and getting to see firsthand what the Air Force does and the capabilities that the Air Force brings. It was about a five-month experience back in 2006-07. The interactions that I had with everybody, it was definitely memorable.
“I would say another highlight was being an Air Force ambassador for about three years with the Air Force Thunderbirds," Moore added. "We traveled from state to state showcasing the Air Force mission to everybody. It was a period of time where I really noticed just how supportive everybody was for the military, toward the military. It was so inspiring to see; and getting to highlight what airmen do on a day-to-day basis was a worthwhile experience.”
Moore earned her degree while on active duty and commissioned through Officer Training School. She said she became interested in commissioning as an officer halfway through her career after encouragement from her mentors.
“I am a career broadening officer,” explained Moore, who became stationed at Barksdale in August 2018. “My core job is program management; and I got assigned here at Barksdale to serve as an aircraft maintenance officer for a career assignment. The idea is I am going to take this experience, this knowledge, and bring it back to program management.
"Since I have been here, I have served in a variety of positions: flight commander, officer in charge and now as an assistant maintenance operations officer. It’s dual-hatted. I’m here learning, observing and bringing experiences back. And at the same time, I am also serving in a leadership roles. I’m getting to hone my craft in the aircraft maintenance world, so it’s been a very worthwhile experience and I have enjoyed it a lot.”
Moore credits her service in the Air Force with helping her find her voice and confidence through her valued experiences. “My service has taught me how to take care of people first and foremost.
“We have a pretty diverse group of people here. Our squadron is roughly 730 people. You learn how to handle different issues to avoid crises. From the people perspective, just the day-to-day how to manage," she continued.
“I have a passion for people and I love taking care of people. So serving in a variety of roles, especially in the maintenance aircraft world, because I don’t get this experience in program management, I’ve definitely learned how to take care of people. You also learn processes, you learn how to be more efficient; every day is something different. When you run into different problems, different issues, you get to see how team dynamics come together and work together to get the job done. It’s definitely been a worthwhile experience to see that perspective. And I am definitely taking some new skill sets back to my core job once my work is done here.”
Moore said she also has learned how teamwork gets the job done. "You can come in any day and have any type of problem. What you think may be going on can take you in a very different direction, depending on the issues that are going on.
“What I have learned is that you have people with different skill sets and knowledge,” Moore added. "You can have a systems issue on an aircraft or an overall process issue; and people’s knowledge, experience and what they bring to the table can have the issue resolved in minutes. It’s awesome to see how different perspectives and the time put in. That’s what I have learned about teamwork. You definitely need a diverse team. You definitely need different experiences. Everyone is good at something, so bringing in those different talents and abilities has taught me how valuable these different perspectives are. Without that, I don’t think we would be able to get the job done.”
“Service means sacrifice,” Moore also said. “It means being a part of something bigger than yourself. There are times that we come here and put in extra hours, you’re away from your loved ones. But during my time in the military, in my 19 years of service, I’ve truly learned over this period of time what true service means. I see it each and every day working with this outstanding team of airmen. Nobody complains, everybody is here each and every day working our hearts out. And I think it is very inspiring to see. I’ve taken away what true service means to me; but at the same time, I see each and every day with all of my counterparts here.”
Second Lt. Kaylee Lima was born and raised in Brazil before immigrating to the United States. And she speaks three languages: Portuguese, Spanish and English.
“I am actually a first-generation American," Lima explained. "Both my Mom’s side and my Dad’s side come from Brazil. It was kind of interesting to see them live the typical American dream that you hear about. And I was always interested in serving and working with airplanes. So part of giving back to the country that gave my family the opportunity to be where we are today, as well as my opportunity to work with airplanes, which I think is awesome.”
She’s the youngest officer in the unit. November marks two years of service for her.
“I just think the idea of this heavy, metal structure and putting it in the sky is kind of fascinating," Lima said. "There’s a lot of pride once we see a jet in the air because our maintainers take good care of it. It takes a lot to put a jet in the air. It’s really a 24/7 operation and you see the hard work that the guys and girls on the flight line and it’s just prideful.”
Lima says it’s great to be able to learn something new every day and that she has learned a lot from her time at AMXS.
“One of the coolest things I’ve learned about this aircraft is that it flies for so long,” Lima said. “You can keep it up by just refueling it mid-air. This aircraft, being as big as it is, can actually do a lot of things. Whether that’s intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, or dropping nuclear weapons or conventional weapons, it’s just really versatile in what it can do.”
“On the officer’s side of the house we come in and talk to our production staff and go over what happened that night,” Lima said. “Then we begin our day with meetings to let leadership know where we are at with our jets, let them know what time they are going to take off and if they are going to take off. Sometimes last minute breaks happen. The rest of the day is just making sure that our people are taken care of so they can take care of the mission on the line.”
When Hurricane Laura was heading towards Louisiana, before landfall, the decision was made to relocate the B-52′s to Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.
“We were anticipating a move to happen," Lima said. “We found out 12 hours before (landfall) that we were going to start getting ready to get the jets out of here. Some of our jets were not flyable, they had certain breaks, so we had to tow them into our docks. The rest took off. It was a huge muscle movement. We did our jobs and we made sure the assets were safe. Then we brought them back to start the mission all over again.”
Lima says serving the country that has given her families the opportunities that it has is a daily honor.
“To me, service means coming to work every day, coming to work every day with a good attitude and knowing that you are working toward something that is bigger than yourself," Lima explained. “It means being OK with the long days, long nights and the hard work you have to put in to make it happen.”
She says working alongside her fellow Airmen, who are family away from family, makes it even better.
“We really help each other out,” Lima said. “We make sure our people can come to us whenever they have a problem so we can provide that relief back to them because everyone has their breaking point. Everyone gets tired. It’s important that we have that line of open communication to be able to help each other out. Working with this maintenance unit, it’s definitely been unique, but if I’m being honest, it’s not something that I think about much. Lately people have been telling us how unique we are and how different it is that we are a group of women working in maintenance because that doesn’t happen very often. Especially having our entire crew, except the commander, being a group of women it’s definitely special to be apart of a unit like this. It shows the direction the Air Force is moving in and it shows the level of interest that younger women coming in wanting to serve and do what we do. I would tell women who are interested to join. You hear a bunch of stories and you see that no one’s story is the same. There is no one way to do military service. I would say join the family because you can make whatever you want out of it.”
Capt. Courtney Bradburry is the 20th Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge from Tyler, Texas.
“My mom and dad were both in the military,” Bradburry said. “It’s something I’ve known I wanted to do since I was a little kid. I first wanted to be a pilot; but as I grew up, I started to think maybe not. I wanted to do maintenance like my mom did. Ever since then, I’ve loved it."
Her mom served in the Air Force as a hydro mechanic, working on C-130s in Abilene, Texas. Bradburry says she knew she wanted to join the Air Force when she was 13 years old and commissioned through the Air Force Academy.
“It is kind of funny because in the military we throw around acronyms all the time and when I throw one out, she will know what it means,” Bradburry said. “It’s really cool to have that. We go back and forth and talk about things, like her saying her PT was running down the flight line with her whole group and I tell her it’s a lot harder now. It’s fun to talk about that kind of stuff with her.”
Bradburry says although her family is close, due to COVID, it’s been nice having her fellow Airmen be a second family to her.
“During COVID it’s been a really big deal,” Bradburry said. “My chief that I work with, my LTE, we probably spend more time on the job, especially during the week, than we do at home. So we are constantly talking to each other like we are family. We know what’s going on in each other’s lives. If one of us is having a hard time with personal problems we know about it. We check up on one another. Yes, I think the family aspect is huge in the Air Force.”
Bradburry has been with AMXS for two months.
“I am still very new, but it has been a blast,” Bradburry said. “The B-52 is an animal in itself, every air frame is, but it definitely has it’s own issues that are fun to deal with, fun to learn. It’s pretty awesome too. The maintainers, there are not too many places for them to go, so going back to family aspect, a lot of the maintainers have been here a really long time. They all know each other You go up to Minot and they all know each other. It’s been really fun and I’m excited to continue to work on the B-52′s for as long as they let me.”
“The most interesting part of working on the B-52′s is probably the nuclear mission,” Bradburry said. “You see it in the news every once in a while when there are problems, but you don’t really know the ins and outs of it. Being able to understand more of that mission and see it’s importance is one of the coolest parts. When you see the amount of problems that we have with the parts and when you see how something that old is flying and still kicking butt out there is pretty cool. When you bring people to look at them and they are in awe about them, I think that helps to put it into perspective for me that I do a pretty cool job that a lot of people don’t get the opportunity to do."
She says she has enjoyed working on the all-female maintenance squadron, but it doesn’t change the fact that they do the same job as other maintenance crews in the Air Force.
“Before I came I was told there were a lot of females, but I didn’t really notice until someone here pointed it out that everyone is a female except your squadron commander,” Bradburry said. “It doesn’t really change anything. We still brief the same stuff, we still do all the same things that men do. The only differences is are that we have to put our hair in buns and not shave our faces.”
Bradburry says the Air Force has given her the opportunity to have the chance to lead a large amount of people at a young age. She says she has also enjoyed the opportunity to influence and make an impact on other’s lives in a positive way. She says it has been nice to see women in the Air Force in leadership positions.
“As a 2nd Lieutenant I did not know any women who were above a captain,” Bradburry said. “I remember meeting a female Lieutenant Colonel for the first time and thinking I had seen a unicorn. I was asking myself where did she come from, how did she do that. Now that I’ve met more Colonels, Lieutenant Colonels, Majors like Major Williams that are females, you watch them have the family life, balancing it and work, I know it’s hard, but I think we are getting better at it.”
Capt. Emonna Kelly is the 96th Aircraft Maintenance Unit assistant officer in charge with the 2nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Barksdale Air Force Base.
Both her parents are retired Air Force and inspired her to serve.
“I went in to the Air Force Academy straight out of college,” Kelly said. “I thought to myself I have to get out of Alabama. I wanted to experience something different. The Air Force Academy offered me a chance to come and play basketball for them. Going in I knew nothing about the Air Force Academy, I knew nothing about what it would entail. I was already an Air Force brat so I kind of knew what the Air Force was about. So I went there and once you graduate you commission into the Air Force so that’s how it all started. I have been in for a total for 4 years. It’s been great.”
Kelly says she played basketball for the Air Force Academy for two years before an injury sidelined her. She took up other hobbies and got interested in Rugby and everything the Air Force Academy had to offer.
She says the people she has met during her time in the Air Force is the driving force behind why she continues to serve.
“One of the greatest advantages of this job is you come in, are given 80 plus Airmen that you have to lead, that you have to earn their trust. Seeing all the different personalities, lifestyles, different needs, circumstances, it just gives you reason to get up in the morning knowing the people you are serving. It’s just a great crowd. They are definitely the reason I stayed.”
Kelly says she got interested in working on the military aircraft at the Air Force Academy.
“Your sophomore year going into your junior year they have a program called Ops ____ where they basically send you to a different base where you can see all the different AFSCs and different jobs. A lot of them have their own mission. When I got to walk out and see the flight line, the hustle and bustle, all the aircraft, the communication, the responsibility, I was like this is it. This is for me and this is what I went with."
“My first aircraft was the F-16 at Shaw Air Force Base and after that it was bombers,” Kelly said. “Bombers now have my heart. I don’t turn the wrenches, I just give the direction and I get the Airmen whatever resources they need to put the B-52′s in the sky. I get them through whatever obstacle that may be in their way and they deliver. Seeing that team effort, seeing the aircraft, this big beast in the sky is really rewarding. We do the improbable everyday."
She says it’s the teamwork that gets the job done everyday.
“I think everyone executing their roles, being a master of their craft, is what gets the job done,” Kelly said. “If I come in and have a bad day, my Airmen have a bad day and vice versa. Just knowing that you have to come in every day and help the team and contribute your part to the team.”
She says she likes being on an all-female maintenance crew, but wants people to recognize them as capable aircraft maintenance technicians doing their jobs.
“It is notable because this is a male dominated career field,” Kelly said. “We only make up 20% of the Air Force and an even smaller percentage of aircraft maintenance. It’s something you do notice, but it’s not something you pay attention to every day. I’ve been with this team for about three or four months now and honestly the thing I recognize most is that I am surrounded by capable officers that are hungry to get it done. You can’t help but notice we are all female, but it’s not the only thing to notice. Hopefully a couple more years down the road this won’t be anything out of the ordinary. Strides are definitely being made to diversify the Air Force, so we are continuing in that direction.”
She says if a young girl watches their story and is interested in potentially serving in the Air Force, she wants that young girl to go for it.
“The sky is the limit,” Kelly said. “A lot of people couldn’t fathom aircraft maintenance, I mean, here we are in a position that’s very improbable. We have 6, 7 awesome females running a AMU, minus our squadron commander. I want to let them know you can come in here and the sky is the limit. Nothing should stop you. It’s all what you want to do.”
Capt. Tia Robles is the 96th Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge in the 2nd AMXS. She graduated from the University of Texas San Antonio and commissioned through ROTC.
She grew up as a military child; both her parents served in the Air Force. She says her mom retired four years ago after 23 years of service in medical administration. She says her father retired 10 years ago after serving in security forces.
“Honestly growing up, I wanted nothing to do with the Air Force because we moved around all the time and my parents were gone,” Robles said. “I said I wasn’t going to do it and then about a year into college, I saw Air Force ROTC at the school I was at, the University of Texas in San Antonio, and I realized I didn’t fit in with the college scene of partying a lot and doing other things, so I found my niche in the military community. It was something that was always imbedded in me and I didn’t know. So I joined ROTC, did 4 years as a cadet and I commissioned in 2015. It’s been great ever since. I’ve been in the Air Force for 5 and a half years now.”
“My parents were excited and surprised at the same time,” Robles said. “One of the things my mom told me was the highlight of her career was right when she was about to retire she was able to oath me into the Air Force. We have a great photo of both of us in uniform with both of our right hands raised and her oathing me into office for the Air Force. It was really, really neat. She is really proud. If I could be one percent of her, she is an outstanding mentor and human being.”
Robles says she knew she wanted to work in a maintenance unit after college.
“I heard from a few people in maintenance that it was tough, it’s long hours, it’s a challenge and people were working 24/7, 365,” Robles said. “I’ve always been told I’m the cheerleader of the team, that I’m always the one leading the pack and really motivated. I thought to myself that I could bring this to maintenance. I thought I could bring a ray of sunshine. I also wanted a job in the Air Force that changed frequently and wasn’t the same every day. I definitely got it. Maintenance was my number one choice coming out of college. It definitely something that humbles me each day knowing that a young family, young guys and gals are out here turning wrenches day and night, rain or sunshine, I’ve even dealt with it in the snow. This team keeps my fire burning and keeps me wanting to come to work every day.”
Robles is expecting her first child, a daughter, in December, but you can still spot her on the flight line.
“I can’t wait!” Robles said. “I am so excited and this place has been great. There are certain precautions, like if there are motors running, I need to be in a vehicle. Other than that, the team has been open arms. It’s been fantastic. We are a family here and everyone is understanding. People have kids, they know what it’s like and it’s really helped me relate more to those folks who have expecting wives or are going through family troubles. I’m definitely going to miss my team when I’m out for a few months taking care of the newborn.”
“I couldn’t imagine a better situation, not only for my work environment, but I come from a line of strong women too,” Robles said. “I have an aunt who is a nurse, my mother who is retired military who does an awesome contracting job right now, family all over and then my work family here. Knowing there are those opportunities for women out there and it’s not what it was, even our military is not what it was ten years ago. My mother would tell me the stories of her not being able to breastfeed at work and us being formula fed because she had to go to work three weeks later. Knowing that I have time, that the Air Force does care, it’s just great. I’m excited for her to be brought up in a world where it’s ‘show me what you got, world’ or ‘show the world what you got’ and make it your own.”
She says being a part of the 2nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and an all-female maintenance unit has been a blessing during her pregnancy.
“This is a real unique unit,” Robles said. “With all the supervisors I work with and my fellow counterparts I’ve never worked in a maintenance unit or in an Air Force unit where I’ve had so many women who also have families. I think that’s a huge piece of understanding my current pregnancy and the emotional intelligence of saying ‘Hey, you’ve got a lot of appointments, instead of working a 12 hour shift, 8 hours is fine, do what you can'. Having that level of understanding has definitely helped me mentally and physically. I’m able to balance it all with people who are understanding. It’s been great."
She, like her fellow Airmen, she doesn’t take notice every day that they are an all-female maintenance unit, but she says it’s much needed in an every changing military in an ever changing world.
“It’s not something I think about and honestly, being a woman in the military, I am fortunate to where I haven’t had too many things that have reminded me that I am an outlier, if you will,” Robles said. “It’s a culture that is changing in the military and it’s helping because the more diverse our Air Force is, the better ideas that come out of it. The diversity creates more dynamic work environment which we have to be ready for because the world is changing. Our dynamic forces and our enemies are changing, so it brings a lot of innovation to the team. I don’t think about it, but sometimes I am reminded when we are all sitting at the table trying to come up with a decision and I see all of the women. It’s fun. It’s a unique team dynamic and I’ll be able to take it with me when I go elsewhere.”
“Service for me really means doing something bigger than yourself,” Robles said. “I think service is engrained whether it’s serving in the military or serving locally, it’s wanting to do something bigger than yourself, wanting to do it for the greater good and expecting an outcome that’s not just satisfying your own personal goals, but being able to be selfless for the greater good and for the masses. It’s something that is very important to me and I get a lot of fulfillment from doing what I do and working with this team."
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