FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – Nilka Goodwin starts every morning in conversation with God before facing the day as a trailblazer for women at Fort Campbell.
Goodwin is the only female engineering equipment operator in the Directorate of Public Works Roads and Grounds Division, and the only woman known to have taken on the job at Fort Campbell.
The Department of Defense, U.S. Army and other federal agencies are celebrating the contributions of women like Goodwin throughout March in observation of National Women’s History Month.
“Being the only woman has its good days and bad days, but it’s mostly good,” she said. “I’m like their little sister so they take care of me, but I also play the mother role to make sure everyone else is taken care of. It’s fun, and I’m not discriminated against or anything like that.”
As an equipment operator, Goodwin helps maintain the roads and parking lots across Fort Campbell, including the gravel roads in the training area. Some days involve routine tasks like fixing potholes or mowing through heavy brush, and others are a call to action during severe weather events.
“Especially doing snow removal, that’s a big-time event for us where we’re basically at work the whole time trying to get the streets and the roads safe for people to come on post,” she said. “Even if the whole post is closed, there are still people who have to take their child to day care or go to work at the hospital, so we have to make sure those gates are safe.”
Goodwin was on the frontline when a winter storm hit the installation in mid-February and said being able to help Soldiers and Families through those hardships is a highlight of her job.
“I like a challenge, and I thought I could do this and be the only female ever to hold that position on Fort Campbell,” she said. “I give all the glory to God, because he’s the one that brought me there and opened that door for me to walk in.”
Goodwin’s career path began when she joined the Army at 17 and served for eight years. During that time, she earned a license to operate heavy machinery, but it would be several years until she transferred those skills to DPW.
However, her ties to the Fort Campbell community run deeper than her job at Roads and Grounds. Goodwin’s last assignment before leaving the Army brought her to the installation, where she has remained since.
“I got out of the military in 2003, and then I worked as a security guard on the gates as a contractor,” she said. “In 2010 we became government employees on the gates, so I was a security guard as a government employee before going over to DPW.”
That was an important decision for Goodwin after spending years working the gates, but she knew it was time for the next step.
“I did the gate thing for 10 years,” she said. “It takes a toll on your body wearing a bulletproof vest and the pistol belt, so I just wanted a change. But when I originally came to DPW, I didn’t come over as an equipment operator. I came over as a scale operator, and then I became an office administrative assistant for the branch chief.”
Goodwin gravitated toward her current job in part because of the opportunity to represent women in a male-dominated field, and said her coworkers have been supportive.
“We’re just like any other organization,” she said. “We have bickering just like a Family where you have your arguments sometimes, but you’re still Family. And the job has to get done, so you put your differences aside and you get the job done.”
Rather than navigating any gender divides, Goodwin’s greatest challenge on the job is her fear of heights and slopes. But whenever she finds herself working at an elevation, she draws on her faith and powers through.
“There’s a scripture in the Bible that says ‘I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me,’” she said. “And I take that every day with me to work, because sometimes it’s hard and you beat up on yourself when you can’t get it just right – but you’ve got to try and do your best.”
Whatever struggles she may face, finishing the job is its own reward for Goodwin.
“Just doing a job or getting a work order done and getting that positive feedback from the customer is worth it,” she said. “It’s a good feeling to know when you lay your head down at night that you’ve done something for somebody else.”