Outnumbered and Thriving
By Airman Megan Shepherd, 179th Airlift Wing
/ Published February 07, 2017
Mansfield -- Females have always been outnumbered at the 179th Airlift Wing, Mansfield, Ohio. There are even less within the maintenance group. Although they are outnumbered, many of the females have thrived in the unit.
About 33 percent of the airmen on base are females, that has grown from nearly 27 percent in the last 10 years. Female officers are even more rare, with only about 20 percent of officers on base being female.
Over 30 years ago a young female airman, Patricia Barr, graduated from Lexington High School and didn’t really have an interest in college at that time, so she began weighing her options. She was invited to attend a local air show in the fall of 1983 at the 179th Tactical Airlift Wing in Mansfield, Ohio. After learning about the Air National Guard and what it had to offer her, she enlisted as a crew chief. She was drawn to the maintenance career fields because of growing up on a farm and loved working on machinery with her dad; she wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty.
The Air National Guard that Barr swore into was not the Air National Guard of today. She wanted to work on the flight line but upon returning for her technical schools a maintenance officer in charge told her that the flight line wasn't a place for a woman. So she was placed in the Aerospace Ground Equipment section to start her maintenance career.
“Thirty-three years ago it was a man’s world,” said Barr, “especially the aircraft mechanic side of the house.”
She said most of the people she worked with treated her well and were like uncles, dads or brothers to her. Sometimes they were too gentleman-like however, trying to help her or do a job for her. “I held my own,” said Barr. “I didn’t let them carry my tool box, I got greasy like they did, I presented myself as an equal with them and carried my own load.”
“It was a man’s world, but I think I did a pretty good job of earning their respect,” said Barr.
Not everyone felt the flight line wasn’t a place for women. The Air Force had no policy against it, but the current culture of that time had a difficult time embracing it.
Barr had an opportunity to attend a college in St. Joseph, MO and it just so happened another Air National Guard C-130 unit was located there, the 139th Airlift Wing. She ended up transferring to the 139th AW in St. Joseph, in order to continue her career in the ANG as well as attend college.
It was at this time she was afforded the opportunity she wanted since her enlistment. Chief Master Sgt. Dave Cochran was in Quality Assurance here at the 179th and knew of another Maintenance QA Chief, George Hawkins, out at the 139th Airlift Wing in St. Joseph, Missouri. “Chief Cochran knew I wanted to work on the airplanes, not just the jacks and stands,” Barr said. “He made the call and asked Chief Hawkins if he would see to it that I got a fair chance to work on the flight line and Hawkins said absolutely.” Given that chance, she thrived on that flight line.
Barr was the first female crew chief to work out on the flight line at the 139th AW. This was the beginning of many glass ceilings to be shattered by this motivated female airman. She continued to carry her own weight and earn respect at every assignment and duty location.
Eventually, she came back to where it all began in Mansfield, Ohio. She was selected for the Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander position as a Lt. Col. in the very same maintenance organization that she enlisted into. She would no longer be told what kind of work women could or couldn’t do.
That young airman went on to become a colonel and today Col. Patricia Barr is one of the first female commanders of the 179th Mission Support Group at the 179th AW.
“I didn't think when I enlisted this is where I’d be,” said Barr. “I enlisted to do 6 years and get out. If I envisioned anything when I was enlisted it would have been becoming a chief more than an officer, surely never a colonel.”
Her generation does not take the cultural progress for granted, they had to earn it. When she got out of maintenance, she asked the recruiters to bring the women that were thinking about going into maintenance to see her. She would talk to them and make sure they knew what it took and what the expectations were.
“We’ve made headway in that culture,” said Barr, when speaking about herself and some of the other female maintenance workers.
She wanted to be sure the new generation would continue to move forward, instead of backward.
“We are still in a male dominated world when you look at the armed services,” said Barr. “You have to work just as hard, or harder, than your male counterparts. Females can be right up there with males when it comes to job skills and job sets, it’s just about giving them an opportunity to excel. But they have to carry their own weight.”
When asked what advice she has for a young female airman, just coming into the Air National Guard today, Barr gave a simple but powerful bit of advice.
“Never give anyone a reason to discount you.”
Barr is a great role model for new females in this unit. She is a living example of what females in the military are capable of.
“Stay true to yourself,” said Barr. “You have to know who you are and what you want as you continue growing throughout your career.”
Barr recently spoke at a career-day event at her alma mater, Lexington High School in Lexington, Ohio.
Young females at the school were able to see an example of what someone who graduated from their high school was able to accomplish in the local Air National Guard unit. Although an all- male panel of military recruiters representing all branches sat in front of them in the auditorium, it was their fellow Lexington Minuteman who held the highest rank in the room. She gave the students someone to look up to.
Barr is proof that the gender barrier is crumbling in our culture.
She said, “It has changed tremendously…I think we’ll see even more of a change in this coming generation of airmen.”
Barr helped pave the way for them. She has shown them that their gender has nothing to do with their work ethic or ability to get the job done.