Female warrant officer credits mentorship for accomplishments

Story by Chief Warrant Officer Joseph Lyddane

propes3

Chief Warrant Officer Melissa Propes (second row from top, middle) with her team in Jordan.  During her deployment with 1st Battalion 623rd Field Artillery she was the Battalion Maintenance Officer. She later became the first female FMS Shop Chief for the Kentucky Army National Guard. (Photo courtesy Chief Warrant Officer Melissa Propes)

 

FRANKFORT, KY. — The title “mechanic” is synonymous with the terms hard work, grease, oil, and more often than not, male.  Although inequality remains prevalent between men and women in the workforce, there are those amongst the projected 159.4 million females in the United States proving that women can dominate, excel, and outperform males at their own game.

One Kentucky Army National Guard Soldier decided to break the mold in pursuit her own aspirations.  Emerging from humble beginnings, Chief Warrant Officer Melissa Propes took the advice of her mother who told her, “You can be anything you want to be if you work hard for it.”

When Propes joined the Kentucky Army National Guard on February 25, 1999 she was faced with a decision, as many of us are, as to which path to choose. With pride and determination, as a senior at Campbellsville High School, she set her sights on the male dominated Military Occupational Specialty of 63W (Wheeled Vehicle Mechanic) and was assigned to the 326th Ordnance Detachment in Glasgow. She attended basic training thereafter and made a name for herself right away by graduating as the Honor Graduate during her Advanced Individual Training.

2LT Stephanie Scott

Chief Warrant Officer Melissa Propes (right) and 2nd Lt. Stephanie Scott, both of 1st Battalion, 623rd Field Artillery, pause during training at Wendell H. Ford Regional training Center in Greenville, Ky. July, 2012. (Courtesy photo)

Chief Propes recognized the importance of continuing her education early on and enrolled in Eastern Kentucky University in 1999 and attended Western Kentucky University from 2000-2002. However, she decided her heart was in the maintenance field, so while serving on orders for a pending deployment she decided to apply for the Nashville Auto Diesel College (NADC) and was accepted shortly after.

Propes’ work ethic became apparent during her tenure at NADC.  She not only was a contributing member on the school newspaper staff, but she worked her way up the ladder at Outback Steakhouse to become a server trainer.

Amid all of her responsibilities, additional duties and monthly drills Propes was able to graduate in 2004 with a diploma in Auto and Diesel Technology as well as receive the prestigious Craftsman Award for having a ninety-five percent shop average.

“There was a defining moment when I realized that being in the National Guard meant more than just showing up for drill and ‘doing your job,'” said Propes.  “I was very young when we got mobilized it became clear to me that if I wasn’t proficient at my job, someone could get killed.  That’s when it became serious for me.”

In true leadership fashion, Propes credits her team for getting through that period of her life.  “I could not have done it without the flexibility and support from my managers, coworkers and family.”

It is difficult to get a foot in the door at some of your major mechanics facilities much less to be the first female mechanic. Propes did just that when she became a hydraulics technician for Thompson Machinery in 2004. Overcoming the odds against her, the disregard of her coworkers, and even the advice of her supervisor that perhaps she was in the wrong career field, she persevered by starting early, working late, and sometimes putting in over eighty hours per week eventually winning the confidence and respect due her.

The experience and credibility established during her time with Thompson Machinery led to her becoming the first full-time female mechanic to be hired at the Combined Support Maintenance Shop as a Heavy Mobile Equipment Repairer.  A promotion and new responsibilities validated her hard work and efforts.

“This was the first time I felt that I could impact my organization beyond just being a good mechanic,” she said.

After being promoted to Staff Sergeant, becoming a shop foreman, senior mechanic, again being the first female to be selected as an equipment specialist,  she decided to accept the challenge of attending Warrant Officer Candidate School to become a 915A Surface Maintenance Mechanic Warrant Officer.  Did I mention she was the honor graduate once again of her Warrant Officer Basic Course?

propes2

Melissa Propes being promoted to the rank of CW2. Early on in life Propes took the advice of her mother who told her, “You can be anything you want to be if you work hard for it.” (File photo)

A newly minted Warrant Officer Propes was eager to accept the position Battalion Maintenance Officer for the 1-623rd.  She later became the first female field maintenance shop chief in the state. She deployed with the 1-623 thereafter in 2013 where she provided area maintenance support of active duty units, Marines, Special Forces, civilian contractors, reefer vans, and UAV launchers.

“There was something new and challenging every day,” said Propes.

Her attitude and approach are exactly why she was nominated for the 2014 Warrant Officer of the Year award.  While she didn’t win, she gave her competition a run for their money.

“Chief Propes was very competitive and made the job of the selection board very difficult.” said State Command Chief Warrant Officer Dean Stoops.  “We need more women in the warrant officer corps and if Chief Propes is an indicator of the potential that’s out there, then the future of the corps is bright.”

“Chief Propes is proof that with hard work, commitment, and a willingness to assume responsibilities,”said Chief Warrant Officer Connie Vick, one of Propes’ mentors and friends.  “All dreams can be accomplished. She is an inspiration to young female Soldiers to excel and achieve their own dreams. I am proud to call her one of my fellow warrant officers.”

After the challenges and struggles throughout the last fifteen years, many would choose to take a break or at least stop to breathe. Not Chief Propes.  Upon returning from deployment she now has an additional goal of attending Western Kentucky University’s Technology Management Program in order to enhance her supervisory and leadership skills as well as become, as she put it “an even greater asset to the maintenance community.”

“I can’t take personal credit for my accomplishments,” said Propes.  “I’ve had some outstanding mentors throughout my career.  Our organization has a focus on mentorship, both in receiving and providing, at all levels, NCOs and officers.”

According to Propes, being a warrant isn’t exactly a walk in the park.  “It’s not for easy and I don’t think it’s for everybody.  But if you love what you do and you wan to continue being a part of your specialized field and make it better, then the warrant officer program is perfect for someone with that mindset and desire.”

 

About kentuckyguard