NEVADA AIR NATIONAL GUARD, Nev. --
For years, the world of Aircraft Maintenance was considered a male-dominated profession. The Nevada Air National Guard’s (NVANG) 152nd Maintenance Group (MXG) has gone from 2 females in the group in the mid-1990s to 53 females and many serving in various leadership roles today.
Starting with the group commander, Col. Catherine Grush, who began her career as a pilot for the NVANG’s 192nd Airlift Squadron in 2001. She went on to becoming the first NVANG pilot in history to break the 1,000-hour mark of combat flying hours. She was the commander of the 152nd Maintenance Operations Flight from March 2008 through September of 2009 – going on to be the 152nd Maintenance Squadron Commander.
Her ability to think strategically and her personal drive scored her a position as the Weapon Systems Manager for C-130 aircraft at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. from October 2014 through August 2015. She came back to the 152nd Airlift Wing to run the Maintenance Squadron again and then worked several different positions at the Nevada National Guard Joint Force Headquarters in Carson City, Nev.
Grush has amassed more than 2,000 flight hours and has multiple overseas deployments to include serving in OPERATIONS CORONET OAK, ENDURING FREEDOM and IRAQI FREEDOM.
“I have never thought of my time in maintenance as breaking records or being different,” said Grush, “I love airplanes and I love what we do. The personnel in the MXG drive themselves and those around them to be better. Maintainers strive to develop officers and enlisted members in our organization. Embracing development through education, leadership and sometimes outright competition, we, in maintenance, want to think outside the box, try new ideas and embrace processes that make all of us better.”
The 152nd Maintenance Group also currently has at the helm of the 152nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron a female by the name of Maj. Merridy Young, who has been a part of the female movement within the Nevada Air National Guard ever since when she was the navigator on the first “all female flight crew” back in 2014.
Young enlisted into the NVANG in August of 2009, serving as a Maintenance Management Production mechanic. She commissioned in 2011 and became a Combat System Officer and earned the Instructor Navigator rating. Young has multiple overseas deployments including serving in OPERATIONS CORONET OAK, INHERANT RESOLVE and EXERCISES FLINTLOCK AND CENTRAL ACCORD.
“The Maintenance Group has been a welcoming environment where I have been challenged and found new confidence,” Young said, “It’s an honor to serve and grow with all the maintainers who take pride in their military service.”
One of the MXG’s First Sergeants, Master Sgt. Cully Picciuto, a former Education and Training manager and Emergency Management specialist, who says that she feels her role is challenging, supportive and rewarding.
“I am very aware of being one of the few women of color in this leadership role,” Picciuto said, “but I love the opportunity. I love what I do and I’m honored that I can be there for my Airmen.”
Picciuto continued, “The ability to engage with all members in the squadron and hearing about their experiences, roles, and responsibilities has made me a better Airman and more intuitive to the world of maintenance. Everyone is very pleasant and hard working. They’re always up for the challenge and always exceed in whatever task they’re given. They’ve taught me so much by just listening and watching what they do. I’ve been in this squadron since 2020 and it has been very rewarding.”
The MXG finally got its first female chief master sergeant this past month, with Senior Master Sergeant Jennifer Harrell being promoted to the rank of chief master sergeant on February 4, 2023.
A career-long maintainer, Harrell enlisted into the Air National Guard in 2002 in the 152nd Aircraft Generation Squadron as a C-130H Aircraft Aerospace Maintenance Technician. She joined to get money for college and needed to supplement the cost of tuition.
“I was activated for The Global War on Terrorism almost immediately upon my return from tech school,” Harrell shared, “I served on two deployments in the Middle East and worked full-time on orders learning everything there was about being an aircraft mechanic. When I finished those 2 years of orders, I realized I wanted to work out here full time. Knowing I wanted this to be my career, I set my sights high and wanted to go as far as I could. Chief was on the radar for sure.”
Over the course of her career, Harrell has deployed in support in support of OPERATION NOBLE EAGLE, OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM, and OPERATION INHERENT RESOLVE. She served in many different capacities in the 152nd Maintenance Group, such as Assistant Crew Chief, Isochronal Dock Inspector, Dedicated Crew Chief and Quality Assurance. She also served as a Training Manager in both the Maintenance Training Office and Base Training Office, assisting members in enhancing their knowledge and skills across the organization. Because of her extensive knowledge of maintenance and training, she was selected to serve on a statutory tour at the Air National Guard Readiness Center at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. She served as the Aerospace Systems Major Command (MAJCOM) Functional Manager, overseeing four separate maintenance air Force specialty codes and Aircraft Maintenance Training Manager where she developed maintenance training programs and policy to further develop the Air National Guard across 54 states and territories and 89 flying wings.
Harrell credits her motivation and drive for success to the Airmen she works with and the mission as a whole.
“I thrive on ensuring we meet the mission every day and revel in the chaos of making sure at the end of the day it all came together successfully, no matter what curveballs were thrown,” said Harrell, “however, seeing the Airmen succeed and helping them meet their goals has also been a huge motivator for me to keep pushing forward in my career.”
She believes that women have a hard time believing in themselves and having enough confidence to go for those goals.
“The doors are open, the ceilings are high, we can achieve anything we want as long as we put the effort in and continue to support each other,” she added, “Find those allies of any gender that push you, challenge you, hold you accountable, and make you better. The landscape of the military, in my experience, has changed over the last 21 years of my service with regards to being a female. We are breaking barriers, and nothing can stop us.”
As far as long-term goals for the first MXG chief, Harrell--she isn’t stopping anytime soon.
“I am a pretty young chief. I have a lot of fight still in me to make the Nevada Air National Guard and the United States Air Force even better. I’d like to stay in MXG for a little longer to continue doing great thigs with regards to our mission. But after that I could look at moving to another part of the Wing or State, including Command Chief. I also have entertained going back up to the National Guard Bureau for another tour possibly. Who knows? I just want to be somewhere I will continue to make a difference and help the Airmen and our mission.”
Chief Master Sgt. Paul Bright, who has been in the Maintenance Group since 1994 said that women maintainers are reaping the benefits of their hard work.
“In recent years there has been a significant shift in the number of females within the 152nd MXG, not only in entry level or office positions,” Bright said, “rather, they’re now rising into leadership roles. This is a direct result of their hard work and dedication. Overall, the MXG has accepted a culture in which ALL hard work is recognized, and we’re now reaping the benefits.”
This has been inspiring for him as this shift happened.
“All of the women (in maintenance) bring different sets of values to the table,” he continued, “best yet they can turn a wrench better than most and with eagle like attention to detail. They impact every aspect of Maintenance and are represented in almost all maintenance specialties. The presence of our female leaders in Aircraft Maintenance has definitely inspired the women within the organization to pursue their dreams. It is a positive impact for those who want to explore future leadership roles.”
Women and men have different leadership styles and Bright welcomes that diversity.
“Women each bring their own styles of leadership however they have a perfect balance of being authoritative, yet approachable.” Bright also added, “they’re great listeners, empathetic, and have excellent communication skills. They demand that members work hard and aim for excellence. As leaders they encourage team members to share their ideas and opinions, they are inclusive which helps in improving the efficiency of the team. They are Mentors to the entire Maintenance Group!”