An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Female mechanics help power McConnell’s KC-46 mission

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Abigail Klein

Female mechanics at the 931st Air Refueling Wing’s Maintenance Group at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, are turning more than wrenches. They are turning the tide on a typically male-dominated career field.

There are more than 270 Reserve Citizen Airmen assigned to the 931st MXG. About 40, or 14%, are women. Despite this relatively low number, the drive of these mechanics to support McConnell’s global flying mission speaks louder than the statistics.

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

She said her coworkers have been very supportive in training her to do her job and making her feel part of the 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 co-workers to expedite the launch,” she said.

Tech. Sgt. Julie Holomalia, 931st AMXS KC-46 Communications, Navigation and Mission Systems craftsman and an air reserve technician, also enjoys the team aspect of her job. She was active duty for 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 with the 931st ARW for the past five years, and said 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,” she said. “I wanted the opportunity to do something more specific and unique. 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,” she said.

Holomalia said her 931st AMXS team is very supportive, but added that 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,” she 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.

Holomalia said she would like to see more women take on maintenance roles, but also stressed the patience they will need.  

“Aircraft maintenance is a fast-paced career field and not everyone is cut out for it – male or female,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of people come and go because it’s not for them. You have to be willing to just put your head down and do the work, and endure the wide range of climate conditions. 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 agreed.

“You have to come in with an open mind and be patient with the learning process,” she 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.”

(Klein is assigned to the 931st Air Refueling Wing public affairs office.)