Retiring Airman recalls three decades of changes as a female aircraft mechanic

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Vicky Spesard
  • 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Tearing down the engine of a C-130H, inspecting its parts, then re-assembling again is all in a day's work for Tech. Sgt. Patricia Nasby, an aircraft engine mechanic in the Kentucky Air National Guard's 123rd Maintenance Squadron.

Preparing for retirement in February after 34 years of service as a member of the 123rd Airlift Wing here, Nasby took some time to reflect on what got her to this point in life, those who helped along the way, and what her next chapter will be.

Growing up in Indiana with six brothers and a father who was a heavy-equipment operator, Nasby always had the idea of working with machinery in some capacity, but she kept getting pushed to other chores because she was a woman.

"I signed up to take automotive class in high school (after dropping out of typing class) and was pulled aside only to be told that I shouldn't do this," Nasby explained. "The school told me that I would be taking away a job from a man who needed to support his family."

Echoing the school's sentiment was Nasby's mother, who was also not in favor of the hands-on work that Nasby so desired.

"I had wanted to go into the Air Force right out of high school," Nasby recalled. "But my mom talked me out of it. This was a time when women were just starting to take on non-traditional roles in the workplace. I had known for a long time that I wanted to be a part of the Air Force, but I followed my mom's advice instead."

After going the traditional route of marriage and starting a family, Nasby eventually made the choice to follow her dream of entering the service -- five years later than she had originally planned.

"Although I faced workplace challenges here, I truly found my calling when I began working on the afterburners of the F-4s," the mechanic said, referring to the Phantom II jet aircraft that Airmen from the Kentucky Air Guard flew in the 1970s and '80s. "It was great to be able to work with my hands alongside others doing the same thing."

As the only woman working in the male-dominated maintenance area, workplace challenges came right away.

"I was assigned to a very tough sergeant when I first got here," Nasby said. "I think the intent was for him to intimidate me and see how long I would stay. When he saw that I could really do the work, and enjoyed it, he became someone who was glad to have me on his team."

Along with changing attitudes came new aircraft and personnel. During Nasby's years in the maintenance area, two other female Airmen came and went, and the wing transitioned from the RF-4C to the C-130 Hercules transport.

"Culture in the workplace is so different now than it was when I came into it," Nasby said. "Women have taken on much more non-traditional roles in the military and in other jobs. There are many opportunities now that didn't exist then. More women are deploying and working in overseas environments."

Indeed, the culture change has allowed Nasby to see many parts of the world as she traveled aboard a Kentucky Air Guard C-130 to its various destinations. She has deployed to Germany and twice to Afghanistan. But her favorite mission was to the Philippines when older model C-130s were sold to the Philippine Air Force and needed to be delivered.

"We ended up landing in so many different places along the way that weren't planned, it felt like a world tour," Nasby said. "On the return trip on a commercial flight, we had an unexpected layover in Hawaii. It was great!"

Seeing the world and learning the ins and outs of new aircraft have filled Nasby's days on the job, but outside of the Air Guard, she has been busy as well. A mother of two, grandmother of three and great-grandmother of three, the mechanic now plans to hang up her wrench and spend time with her family.

"My mom passed away just before I entered basic training, so I have used my extended family a lot to help with my kids," she explained. "I missed a lot of birthdays and special events.

"But I think my family is very proud of me and of my accomplishments," said a slightly teary-eyed Nasby. "I have worked with really great people here and have great memories, but it's time to leave this behind and be a grandma."