Most employment opportunities in the military are now open to women as well as men. The Air Force has been a leader in that area.
An official statement concerning the way the Air Force operates states: “We can only carry out our mission with the efforts and commitment of our airmen. That’s why we continue to help them grow with advanced training, ongoing career opportunities and excellent pay and benefits … airmen are paid equally based on their rank and years of service.”
The story of one female airman bears out that statement. In 1976, Bobi Oates had been a deputy sheriff and wanted to join a local police department.
Upon applying she was told that at 5 feet, 3 inches she was too short; the minimum requirement being set at 5 feet, 9 inches, which was the standard for men at the time. A state trooper she knew suggested that instead she look into the Air Force as a career possibility.
That she did, but when she advised the recruiters that she wanted to enter military security forces, she said they told her, “Oh, we have something much more challenging for you. Aircraft maintenance.”
She received training on fighters, including maintenance on F-4 aircraft. Upon graduation, she said, “My first duty station was in Spain. I didn’t know we had bases in Spain, and everybody was asking, ‘How did you get that?’ and I said I don’t know.”
She said it was the year after Gen. Francisco Franco had died, “So Spain was kind of in a turmoil with the changeover from a dictator to a little more freedom.”
But that had little bearing on the officers at her NATO base who spoke English, and Oates got right into the program.
“The hangar I worked in, I did heavy maintenance, crash recovery, wheel and landing gear and things like that.”
When she left Spain she was sent to a base in Arizona and worked on a flight line. After a year and a half she made staff sergeant, but her flight chief told her they didn’t have a need for female staff sergeants on the flight line. She stayed in maintenance, but she was shuffled to a different position.
Much later she went back to the flight line, this time in organizational maintenance supervision “doing check orders, working for the chief and the captain.” In time she was deployed to Texas, where she evaluated maintenance crews. Then it was off to Korea to work in quality assurance.
She met another airman there who became her husband. When he was transferred to Nellis Air Force Base, Oates was able to transfer to nearby Indian Springs to work on the Predator aircraft program where she was first maintenance superintendent. Later she was sent back to Nellis and promoted to acting first sergeant. In 1999, after 23 years,
“It was time to retire,” she stated.
She was asked if she felt it was advantageous for young folks seeking employment today to consider the Air Force. Her answer was, “Yes, especially if they have technical skills. Or even the Space Force. The Air Force is very technical, and it’s not just about airplanes. We do cyber; there’s intelligence, computer science, engineering skills, a lot of other career fields.
“Everybody thinks the Air Force is all pilots, but it’s not. And it’s also a good place to finish your education. I was able to get my bachelor’s degree while I was in the service, but I was just too busy working to go for my master’s. Maintenance is kind of like, some days you work 12 hours a day, sometimes you work eight, sometimes you work 20.”
Although she is a civilian, she is still very involved with the Air Force. She is president of the local Air Force Association, and region president for Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada.
She hopes to soon become the area director for the entire western United States.
“We’re trying to get more people involved because our mission is to educate, advocate and support. We educate; we’re really heavy on the sciences and professional development. We advocate; we have our top 10 list that we take to our legislators and say, ‘This is the needs of the Air Force and the needs of the Space Force.’”
Regarding support, she said, “We support our airmen and their families. We tell them that until the day they are laid in the ground, they are an airman for life. We take care of our airmen and our guardians be they active, National Guard, Reserve, retired or just a veteran. That is our main focus.”
Chuck N. Baker is an award-winning journalist and a Vietnam War Purple Heart veteran. He can be heard at 8:30 a.m. each Sunday on KKVV-AM hosting “That’s America to Me” and occasionally on KUNV-FM hosting “America’s Veterans, Today and Tomorrow.”