WASHINGTON – When Chief Warrant Officer 4 Melinda Herder enlisted in the Army in 1985, she had three choices: administrative assistant, parachute packer, and avionics mechanic. After talking it over with her father, who was in the Navy, she chose to become an aviation mechanic.
"At the time I went through my advanced individual training, there were two females that I can remember," she said. "The other female in class with me … was a few years older than I was, so she became a big sister to me and really watched out for me during that time. We are friends to this day."
As an aviation mechanic, Herder repaired and installed electronic electrical equipment on helicopters. After four years of active duty, she transitioned to the District of Columbia National Guard.
"I was able to bring my experience and knowledge from active duty and perform the same job at the [DCNG] Army aviation support facility. Within a year, I was hired as an electronics mechanic full-time," Herder said.
Herder has continued to advance in her career through aircraft transitions and additional training, leading her to take on supervisory roles as a senior noncommissioned officer.
"That was my goal. I had not thought about going any further than becoming a sergeant first class," she said. "A warrant officer encouraged me to submit a warrant officer candidate package, and it took off on its own. Next thing I know, I was in school being pinned."
Along with becoming a warrant officer came new opportunities in leadership. She was recognized for her abilities in her career field and as a leader.
"Up until 2018, I was the allied shop supervisor. I was then selected to perform as the maintenance officer of the facility, which is huge," said Herder. "I'm managing 10 aircraft: six UH72 [Lakotas] and four UH60 [Black Hawks]."
For the past 2 1/2 years, her fully mission capable rate has been well above the standard. When she was assigned as the maintenance officer, she was given a month to improve the program. After observing the team, she went back to the basics of maintenance and made subtle changes in efficiency and accountability. Not only did the team meet standards after 30 days, but they were also achieving a 96% fully mission capable rate at six months.
"A whole year and a month [later], for about five weeks we were reporting a 100% fully mission capable rate," Herder said. "That's unheard of. I think that put the D.C. Guard's aviation maintenance program in the top 10% of the 54 states and territories."
Herder is not deterred by challenges. She understands things can be frustrating, but it's how you respond that builds your character. One of the best pieces of advice she has received during her career helps her tackle problems.
"One of my commanders said to me once, 'It's OK to have the problems and to cry and complain about whatever those problems are, but once you bring the problems, you think about the solutions, too'," Herder said. "That really stuck with me."
Education means a lot to Herder, both military and civilian. She has completed a two-year degree in electronics engineering and is working on a four-year degree in aviation management. She also recently completed her intermediate-level education for the military.
Throughout her 35-year career, Herder has been a pioneer for women in aviation maintenance. She has proven she is capable of not only doing the job but leading others. Although there are still very few women in the field, she sees a bright future.
"I think it will change in the future," she said. "More women are studying science and math. We just have to make it available to them, and give them the confidence."