Children lined up inside the New England Air Museum to participate in the “Women Take Flight” event held Saturday, March 7, 2020 in Windsor Locks, Conn. The event, which is a celebration of Women’s History Month and women in aerospace, brought women from different military branches and aerospace industries together to introduce young girls to aviation and STEM careers.
The one-day event allowed for visitors to meet female pilots, engineers, and maintainers to show that there is no limit on the possibilities of military careers for either gender. The 103rd Airlift Wing exhibited a booth where visitors witnessed the diverse career fields in aerospace, specifically careers that women currently hold and are offered in the Connecticut Air National Guard.
Maj. Cheryl Mead, 103rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander, spearheaded the efforts and explained the importance of participating in the event.
“Sometimes people grow up in certain environments where maybe they’re not exposed to certain things,” said Mead. “Sometimes it’s just exposure that women perform maintenance, they fly planes, they work in Security Forces; they do these jobs that maybe they had not have had an exposure to outside of these events.”
With every visitor, 103rd Airlift Wing volunteers explained the details of their jobs and encouraged youths to try on flight suits, helmets, and headsets, all in an effort to showcase the importance of women in aviation. There were hands in the air as visitors pointed at displays and were very eager to ask questions.
“As members of the 103rd or as just women in general, it’s important to show what women can do and to show our youth, as they come through here, what we’re capable of doing,” said Capt. Jennifer Artiaco, Maintenance Operations Flight commander.
The event also showcased the 377th Airlift Squadron, 439th Airlift Wing, Air Force ROTC, and Air Force Recruiting Service, providing a diverse array of opportunities to meet many women of the industry.
Mead, who has three daughters of her own, feels that representation is important. “When a little girl sees other women in these roles, she’ll say: well, there’s no barriers there and that it’s being done; I can do this!”
The event not only demonstrates how women can have many different types of careers, it also highlights how women can excel in careers. Two prime examples were both Mead and Artiaco, who both began their career as enlisted members of the Connecticut Air National Guard prior to becoming officers.
Mead began her career as an Airman 1st Class in the Force Support Squadron before commissioning into the Logistics Readiness Squadron after earning her Bachelor’s degree. She now oversees crew chiefs who work on the flight line and is responsible for the direct management of at least 25-60 people at any given time. Her career spans over 20 years of service.
Artiaco began her career in 2000 as a crew chief servicing A-10s before becoming a First Sergeant for the Maintenance Group and eventually becoming an officer for the same group. She currently oversees maintenance operations, aggregating data from across the maintenance group.
Whether it’s communication among members or taking care of the budget within the group, maintenance operations takes care of all the manning, training and all the analytics that go along with the group. Artiaco helps ensure that the 103rd is maintaining its mission and keeping the aircraft flying.
“We are so proud of what we do that that we’ve actually incorporated our new tagline and our new mission statement, which is called ‘Data Done Right,’” said Artiaco. “Because we take so much pride in ensuring that our data is complete and that’s really what we are: the data center of the maintenance group.”
Pride in service and accomplishments as well as forging a path for future women in military service was the goal for the annual event. For the more than 600 visitors who attended the New England Air Museum on Saturday, this goal was met with hopes the face-to-face interactions inspire a new generation of young women in STEM and aviation.
“Ask questions, get the information, and don’t think that there’s anything that you can’t do,” said Mead. “If you have a love for something whether it be in the military, whether it be aviation, whether it be anything.”