By 1st Lt. Ryan DeBooyAugust 26, 2019
WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD, Hawaii-If you told Pfc. Tess Sandoval, that in just over a year after graduating high school, she would be back home in Hawaii and responsible for maintaining the Army's primary attack helicopter, she would not believe you.
Unique as the helicopter she is charged to maintain, Sandoval is one of only two female Soldiers in Delta Troop, 2nd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment that hold the 15R Attack Helicopter Repairer military occupational specialty, or MOS.
In the entire Army, women make up about six percent of the entire 15R MOS. In such a small military career field-that is primarily dominated by men-Sandoval finds herself being one of the "Onlys" in her unit.
When asked about her work environment, Sandoval said, "it has its pros and cons-working with males and doing physical training, it definitely pushes me, it keeps me very competitive."
A new 2018 report titled "Women in the Workplace" by the McKinsey consulting group described the "the only one" experience as a common experience for women. The group claimed, "one in five women say they are the only woman or one of the only women in the room at work."
The experience can be isolating and according to the group, it is "twice as common for senior-level women and women in technical roles."
"The hardest part of being a female in the Army is being constantly watched, no matter what," said Sandoval. "When it comes to getting praise, or getting noticed for my work, I don't need that anymore. As long as I get the job done and get the bird out, I'm perfectly fine with it."
Sandoval admitted that being an "Only" has been a struggle but says the experience has made her stronger as a person and bolstered her commitment to the job.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Adam Kozel, aviation maintenance officer for 2nd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, noticed Sandoval's performance.
"She's a quality junior maintainer," said Kozel. "To that fact-she understands that she doesn't know everything-it makes her pay attention more.If she knows she doesn't know-she will ask. I have fielded a lot of questions from her."
Kozel has been an Apache pilot since 2006 and has a passion for maintenance.
"There are only two things we operate on. Not knowing and not caring. When you first show up, you don't know. She is slowing witling away and getting rid of that. Then you always have to look after the not caring-but she doesn't have that problem," he said.
When asked about her strongest qualities, Sandoval touted her empathy and how that informs her performance at work. As an example, she talks about a recent exchange she had with Kozel.
"He told me that he feels more comfortable when he sees me working on the aircraft because I just don't check once-I quadrupled check. I get my battle buddies to check and my sergeant. It's not only that we have to get this bird out and flying-the pilot and co-pilot's lives are on the line-they're real people with real families," she said.
"When he told me that, it made me feel a lot better."
Having had the privilege of recently promoting Sandoval to the rank of Private First Class, Kozel has taken her under his wing and kept her on the right track.
"I'm overjoyed when any of the enlisted Soldiers ask me to promote them or re-enlist them because it means in some shape or form, that I'm having an impact on them," said Kozel.
Sandoval's journey to her unit started immediately after high school.
"My sister is a combat medic and her husband is artillery-she was the one who ultimately convinced me to join the Army," said Sandoval.
With 11 military family members-seven in the Army, three in the Marines, and one in the Navy-sharing in her family's military comradery was important and it made the decision to join a little easier.
One family member who motivated her the most is her grandfather, West Point '64 alumni and U.S. Army Col. (Ret.) Kenn Sprague.
In February 2018, Sandoval enlisted in the Army and started basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina in July. Nine-weeks later, and then a newly minted Soldier, she proceeded to Fort Eustis, Virginia for 16-weeks of advanced individual training.
Sandoval has been back home in Hawaii with Delta Troop, 2-6th Cav. since April 2019. The Troop handles a lot of the heavy maintenance for the AH-64 Apache to support the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade and the 25th Infantry Division.
"I believe no matter what year it is in the Army, women are constantly going to have to battle for equality, no matter what. It's an on-going fight but it's a fight worth having," she said