Story and Photos by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs
Video by Alli Burton, Kentucky National Guard Family Programs
FRANKFORT, Ky. — “It’s really an exciting time for women in the military,” said Staff Sgt. Kathleen Braithwaite. “The perception has changed a lot in my time in uniform. It’s no longer just little boys that grow up to be Soldiers, little girls have that dream too.”
Her feelings are not unique. More than 1,000 women wear the uniform in the Kentucky Army and Air National Guard, with roughly 15% of the U.S. military and many will share the same such ideas of bygone stereotypes.
Braithwaite works full-time as a wheeled vehicle mechanic at the Field Maintenance Shop (FMS) #5 in Frankfort. She is one of two females in the shop. She said she no longer considers the thought of ‘predominantly male environments’. (Story continued below video…)
“The Guard has always treated me as an equal. It is about being a Soldier, your gender doesn’t really matter. If you work hard and you want to learn, you will succeed,” she said. “My first squad leader was also a female and she was fantastic. She is very passionate about her job and she has risen to become a chief warrant officer now and runs an FMS shop. I was the only female for a long time in my current position and the guys there treated me as an equal from the very beginning.”
Pfc. Meghan Aube serves as one of only two female helicopter mechanics in the Kentucky Guard. Just like Braithwaite, Aube enlisted into a primarily male-dominated occupation, something neither of them thought too much about before swearing in.
“Being one of a select few females in my job, I don’t feel any different,” said Aube. “If you go out there and do your job and complete it as well as any of the guys do, there is no difference.”
“They treat you the same as anybody else and it’s been that way the whole way through for me, through basic training, through AIT. If you do your job, there is no male or female, you’re a Soldier, and that’s just how it is.”
Warrant Officer James Foley is the FMS #5 shop manager and is Braithwaite’s boss. He also feels that gender doesn’t play a role in getting the job done.
“There is no difference based on her gender,” said Foley. “Braithwaite is a NCO and she conducts herself as such. She is a senior mechanic in the shop and is continuously sought after for technical advice from lower grade mechanics. She’s a strong leader, comes to work every day with the mindset to work and conducts her duties proficiently.”
Both Soldiers enlisted to challenge themselves, but neither originally considered becoming mechanics. Braithwaite said she couldn’t even change her own oil in her car, now she’s training other Soldiers how to maintain millions of dollars’ worth of U.S. military equipment.
“No one in my family knew much about vehicles and I remember spending time on the side of the road when on ours broke down. Now my family calls me when they’re having problems with their cars,” she said. “I wanted a challenge when I enlisted, something I didn’t know much about. Learning about mechanics has presented me with great challenges and I thoroughly enjoy it.”
“I also have met some of my best friends in the Guard. I grew up as an only child and now I have all these brothers and sisters in uniform, and it’s a wonderful feeling. We are a family.”
While they have only served a few years, Braithwaite and Aube have solid advice for other females considering the military.
“My advice to women is to just get in there and do it. It was the best decision of my life,” said Braithwaite.
“There are so many opportunities for women today, a complete 180 from when I was little,” said Aube. “There’s more jobs open, all of them now, you can stay enlisted, become a warrant officer or commission as an officer, if you set your mind to it, you can do anything you want to do.”
Col. Michael Stephens commands the 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade, which Aube’s unit falls under. He said there’s more than 70 females serving in his brigade. He has seen many step up in a variety of roles and represent women in uniform with the utmost distinction.
“I never sit and think of the Soldiers in my command as whether they are male or female,” he said. “I have hundreds of great Soldiers, aviators, mechanics, personnel specialists, logisticians, etc.; and oh, yeah, many of them are female. They do their job and duty, and do it well. We should stop making a distinction with regard to their gender, and focus more on what they have accomplished as great human beings, who just happen to be female.”
Women continue to break through the barriers of military service. It’s been nearly two years since the Pentagon announced that all combat jobs are opened to women. With the additions of the first female Rangers and even the first females in the artillery and armor branches, strides are being made to level the playing field and allow female Soldiers to become the newest trendsetters in the military.