BAGHDAD - Females are becoming more and more prevalent in military flight crews.
Being a woman in a male-dominated field can be an intimidating obstacle for many to overcome. However, Staff Sgt. Katie Replogle and Spc. Bernice Garcia have managed to find a way to to fit in with their comrades on the flight line.
"I never thought I could do something like this, and I proved myself wrong," said Garcia, a Houston native and Chinook door-gunner with Company B, 3rd Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division.
Door gunners have a physically demanding job; and the job makes Garcia feel strong and capable despite her small stature, she said.
When someone boards her aircraft, Garcia can be seen directing passengers, repacking and strapping down baggage, and ensuring the passengers are safely belted in for take off.
Before this deployment, Garcia was serving as a supply clerk. Her command asked for door-gunner volunteers, and she immediately jumped at the opportunity. She admits that she had second thoughts once she was clued in to the labor-intensive job description of a Chinook door gunner, but decided to do it for the experience.
"I never took the Chinooks seriously," Garcia said. "Now, I realize how big of a responsibility we have."
A former member from Garcia's chain of command, 1st Flight platoon crew chief, also with Company B, Staff Sgt. Christopher Suiters, said, "Honestly, I don't look at her as a female. I ask everyone, 'Can you do your job'' Garcia does her job excellent."
Although she feels that being a door-gunner is a good experience, Garcia admits to missing her office job sometimes.
As a door-gunner, Garcia is responsible for ensuring the safety of those on the Chinook, including manning the 240B machine-gun. Replogle is responsible for actually maintaining her helicopter.
Replogle, a Richland Springs, Texas native and Blackhawk crew chief standardization instructor with Company C, 3rd Battalion, 227th Avn. Regt., grew up working on cars while living with her father. She has always been interested in vehicle maintenance, so coming into the aviation field as a helicopter maintainer suited her well.
"You have to be self-sufficient and can't expect anyone to do your job," Replogle said.
Although Replogle has advanced to crew chief instructor, she is still required to run missions and is expected to watch a sector as a gunner, while in flight.
Climbing in and out of the window to get to the gunner's seat in a Blackhawk can be strenuous, so she has ramped up her physical training and now trains seven days per week.
"If I can't lift something, I'll never hear the end of it," Replogle said. "So the gym is very important to me."
Replogle said she can bench press more than her 1st Sgt. and out-leg presses every guy in the company.
"Sometimes, I think [the 1st Sgt.'s] sole purpose for going to the gym is so he can out-lift a girl," she added, grinning.
While Replogle continuously works to build her physical strength, she hasn't lost her femininity. The helmet she wears displays Toby Keith's signature, in pink.
Both women agree that there is not a lot of room for sensitivity in the aviation field. They also agree that they are up to the challenge.
Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others-Amelia Earhart.