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It was 8:30 a.m. at Storck Barracks in Illesheim, Germany, and “Roxanne” the UH-60 Blackhawk was finished with her maintenance and being pulled out to the airfield.
“We just all really like that song,” said Spc. Valerie Bragg of B Company, 603rd Aviation Support Battalion, 3rd Combat Air Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, referring to how the helicopter ended up with its racy sobriquet. As soon as one helicopter went out of the bay, another was on its way in.
“Her sister ‘Angelica’ is here for her 48 month maintenance; we don’t like her as much.”
Bragg was one of only a few women on the maintenance team pulling the helicopters in and out of their bay that morning. Bragg is a UH-60 Helicopter Repairer, and she had recently celebrated her one year anniversary in the Army on January 2nd.
“It was hard for me when I came here to Germany last summer, you know, being one of the guys,” said Bragg. “I’ve never really worked with my hands before, I’m more of a brain person. A lot of the other tangos are life-long mechanics. On top of that there’s all these different backgrounds and ages and we all have different ways of handling stress. It can get hard.’
“But I think the other tangos are some of the funniest people I’ve met in a long time.”
Before continuing on, she gave a quick chuckle to herself.
“We’re really working hard out here, but if you’re working hard and laughing it motivates you,” said Bragg. “I want to do my job to support the people I work with. It keeps you pumped, the laughter and the jokes. I want to make sure we’re taking care of our people and getting the job done.”
“Angelica” needed attention though. The team of helicopter mechanics diligently cleaned the next helicopter in their queue.
“I don’t know what they were doing but this bird was dirty!” Bragg said while she scrubbed the hull of the Blackhawk.
Despite the low temperature, Bragg wore a half smile as she worked.
“This is the easy part. I was in the workforce for a good ten years before the Army,” Bragg said later during a break. “I had such a variety of jobs. I worked at a restaurant for a while. I did freelance work for a while, working as a writer online.”
Her writing, by her own account, is a blend of science fiction and fantasy. One work she’s published, Echo, tells the tale of a revolution on a distant desert planet led by the titular character who rides fantastical alien beasts for sport.
Bragg’s website, an understated vision in glossy black and cobalt blue, leads with a brief quote, just a single sentence long.
Come on an adventure with me.
“I was a school director in China for a while,” she went on off handedly. “So, a pretty wide spectrum of jobs.”
Bragg taught English for three years in Shen Yang, also known as Fengtian and Mukden in the region of Manchuria.
“Just a little town of 8 million people!” said Bragg before laughing. “I was kind of like a superstar there actually. There weren’t many westerners who lived there, so some of the local people would stare. Some even took pictures; it’s kind of crazy to think about even now.’
“I gave birth to my daughter while I was over there, and she took a lot of the attention off me.”
The single mother has a three year old, Andromeda, back in the states.
“This has actually been the most stable transition I’ve had to a foreign country. I always know where I’m going to eat and sleep.”
Bragg said that she brought a lesson with her from her time in China to her new unit.
“Community,” said Bragg. “When we were in China I always tried to build a community by playing games and having fun, being a little silly in our off hours.’
“We don’t always hang out in our off hours, but the more trust and reliance we have in each other will really carry over into the work we do.”
According to Bragg, one of her greatest adventures has been motherhood. She worked online in Nicaragua for a year before her enlistment at the start of 2019. Bragg said that she joined to provide financial stability for her daughter and herself.
“I can call her at least once a week,” said Bragg, “so thank goodness we live in an age of technology that I can make that happen.’
“I like it here, the German countryside makes me feel peaceful, but I don’t like being away from my daughter.”
“Everyone here has something that’s motivating them,” said Bragg. “I’m like any other person here. Those motivations connect everyone working in the hangar.”
“I miss you Andromeda!” she said before returning to work while brandishing a photo of her daughter on her phone. “She’s the reason I can keep going. This is all for her.”
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