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KSLA Salutes: Jeanette Watson, a modern-day Rosie the Riveter

“I told them ... I want to do maintenance. I want to get my hands dirty”
Jeanette Watson spent the first 15 years of her Air Force career in aircraft maintenance. She...
Jeanette Watson spent the first 15 years of her Air Force career in aircraft maintenance. She retired out of Barksdale Air Force Base in 2014.(Jeanette Watson)
Published: Jan. 24, 2022 at 10:20 PM CST
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SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) — Jeanette Watson decided she wanted to join the military when she was 21.

“Like many of us, I had no idea what I wanted to do,” Watson said. “I was just working on the wrong path. So I spoke with a couple of recruiters and got involved with the Air Force.

“When I first started going through the paperwork, they told me I needed to go into an administrative field because of how I scored,” she explained. “I told them I didn’t want to do that, I want to do maintenance. I want to get my hands dirty.”

And that’s exactly what Watson did for her first 15 years in the Air Force — worked in aircraft maintenance.

“It was the bodywork of an aircraft and, for me specifically, I worked on fighters,” she said. “My very first airframe was the EF-111 down in Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico. It’s since been retired.

“I did that for about 15 years and then after that transferred to the intelligence field where I was an analyst. I got stationed out here at Barksdale, my husband was also active duty out here and we both ended up retiring out of Barksdale.”

Watson was able to travel across the country during her service. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, she started at Cannon Air Force Base and spent four years there. She was then stationed at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas before spending a year in South Korea and several years in England, where she met her husband. They got married before they were moved and stationed at Davis Monthan-Tucson Air Force Base in Arizona, Watson said. Their last base was Barksdale.

She said she has several takeaways from her service.

“I never would have learned how to work with metal the way I can nowadays. That was really neat for me to learn. With that it’s not only aircraft sheet metal, but it also had a lot to do with composite work.

“For me, I have always liked to bake. So I was able to incorporate the composite work like I was making cookies or baking brownies. That was how I was able to connect it, and it just clicked.

“Also learning to be a part of a team and having to relocate every few years. Unlike a lot of people who grew up in their hometowns or grow up with their best friends from high school and can’t see themselves without that interaction, well, I am able to meet new people and venture around. Learning how to bounce around and how to adjust to getting to meet and know a lot of people is so beneficial. And it’s also helped my children a lot, too.”

Now Watson works as an administrative officer with the pathology laboratory at Overton Brooks VA Medical Center in Shreveport.

“I was working with the City of Shreveport for about five years. I was working on the water consent decree and managing a lot of their contracts,” she explained. “I saw the position open up at the VA, also working with contracts. So I thought to myself ‘Let’s get back to government’. After 20 years of active duty, I was really excited to get back to government.

“I work with contracts and am in the path lab. The only medical experience I had was going to the medical clinic every year because working with aircraft sheet metal you had to have a whole slew of lab work done. Moving into this position, I am learning a whole lot about medical and the backside of the lab that I never would have thought I’d learn before. For me, that’s really exciting and it’s a lot to intake, but I am learning a little bit every day.”

For those who may be interested in serving in the military, Watson said it’s an amazing learning experience. “Everyone has a different reason for joining the military. I didn’t know where I wanted to be when I grew up. But after I joined the military, I found a new family that I didn’t have before.

“I also learned a lot about my own family and a lot of history I didn’t know,” she added. “I had a grandfather who was actually at Pearl Harbor during the bombing. He was a survivor. He was in the Navy and was on a ship and was a painter. Unfortunately, that’s all that we know.

“My grandmother was also one of the original Rosie the Riveters, which was comical because I didn’t know about that until I joined the military and became a modern-day Rosie the Riveter.

“So when you join the military, you’re not only learning about our country and how to defend it, but you learn to make new friends and you learn more about yourself. Keep your eyes open, you never know what’s going to happen or who you are going to meet.”

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