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Breaking barriers: Women of the Bomber Task Force

Airman 1st Class Olivia Vargas, 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, performs maintenance on a U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, in support of a Bomber Task Force mission, Dec. 26, 2020. Bomber Task Force maintainers ensure the bombers, such as the B-1B Lancer, and associated equipment are ready to provide airpower – anytime, anywhere. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tristan Day)

Airman 1st Class Olivia Vargas, 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, performs maintenance on a U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, in support of a Bomber Task Force mission, Dec. 26, 2020. Bomber Task Force maintainers ensure the bombers, such as the B-1B Lancer, and associated equipment are ready to provide airpower – anytime, anywhere. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tristan Day)

Senior Airman Tristan Day, 341st Missile Wing photojournalist, photographs Bomber Task Force mission operations, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Dec. 15, 2020. As a photojournalist, Day captures the U.S. Air Force mission in the form of written words, photos and videos. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Austin McIntosh)

Senior Airman Tristan Day, 341st Missile Wing photojournalist, photographs Bomber Task Force mission operations, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Dec.15, 2020. As a photojournalist, Day captures the U.S. Air Force mission in the form of written words, photos and videos. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Austin McIntosh)

Airman 1st Class Audrey Taylor, 28th Security Forces Squadron response force leader, poses for a photo at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, in support of a Bomber Task Force mission, Dec. 26, 2020. Security Forces Airmen patrol the flightline to ensure security and guidelines are maintained. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tristan Day)

Airman 1st Class Audrey Taylor, 28th Security Forces Squadron response force leader, poses for a photo at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, in support of a Bomber Task Force mission, Dec. 26, 2020. Security Forces Airmen patrol the flightline to ensure security and guidelines are maintained. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tristan Day)

Airman 1st Class Makayla Gibbs, 28th Operation Support Squadron airfield equipment apprentice, cleans and sanitizes headgear for a pilot at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, in support of a Bomber Task Force mission, Dec. 18, 2020. Aircrew Flight Equipment Airmen are responsible for maintaining the integrity of equipment that pilots use for every mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tristan Day)

Airman 1st Class Makayla Gibbs, 28th Operation Support Squadron airfield equipment apprentice, cleans and sanitizes headgear for a pilot at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, in support of a Bomber Task Force mission, Dec. 18, 2020. Aircrew Flight Equipment Airmen are responsible for maintaining the integrity of equipment that pilots use for every mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tristan Day)

Senior Airman Krystal De Los Santos, 37th Bomb Squadron aviation resource management, hands a document to a U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer pilot, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, in support of a Bomber Task Force mission, Dec. 23, 2020. Several B-1B aircraft deployed to Andersen AFB as part of U.S. Strategic Command’s support to the National Defense Strategy objectives of strategic predictability and operational unpredictability by using a mix of different aircraft to and from various dispersed U.S. bases and other departure and arrival points, to include Guam. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tristan Day)

Senior Airman Krystal De Los Santos, 37th Bomb Squadron aviation resource management, hands a document to a U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer pilot, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, in support of a Bomber Task Force mission, Dec. 23, 2020. Several B-1B aircraft deployed to Andersen AFB as part of U.S. Strategic Command’s support to the National Defense Strategy objectives of strategic predictability and operational unpredictability by using a mix of different aircraft to and from various dispersed U.S. bases and other departure and arrival points, to include Guam. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tristan Day)

Master Sgt. Erin Lefever, 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Bomber Task Force project officer, poses in front of a U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, in support of a Bomber Task Force mission, Jan. 4, 2021. As the BTF project officer, Lefever coordinates the logistics for the 28th Maintenance Group personnel prior to arrival and throughout the trip, such as cargo prep and any additional coordination with the Andersen team regarding maintenance personnel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Austin McIntosh)

Master Sgt. Erin Lefever, 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Bomber Task Force project officer, poses in front of a U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, in support of a Bomber Task Force mission, Jan. 4, 2021. As the BTF project officer, Lefever coordinates the logistics for the 28th Maintenance Group personnel prior to arrival and throughout the trip, such as cargo prep and any additional coordination with the Andersen team regarding maintenance personnel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Austin McIntosh)

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam --

Master Sgt. Erin Lefever, 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Bomber Task Force project officer, poses in front of a U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, in support of a Bomber Task Force mission, Jan. 4, 2021. As the BTF project officer, Lefever coordinates the logistics for the 28th Maintenance Group personnel prior to arrival and throughout the trip, such as cargo prep and any additional coordination with the Andersen team regarding maintenance personnel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Austin McIntosh)
Breaking barriers: Women of the Bomber Task Force
Master Sgt. Erin Lefever, 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Bomber Task Force project officer, poses in front of a U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, in support of a Bomber Task Force mission, Jan. 4, 2021. As the BTF project officer, Lefever coordinates the logistics for the 28th Maintenance Group personnel prior to arrival and throughout the trip, such as cargo prep and any additional coordination with the Andersen team regarding maintenance personnel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Austin McIntosh)
Photo By: Airman 1st Class Austin McIntosh
VIRIN: 201219-F-XX000-0034
Working within maintenance for the past 15 years, Master Sgt. Lefever knows her field better than most. As a Bomber Task Force (BTF) project officer for the 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Lefever has had the unique opportunity to coordinate the logistics for her personnel prior to arrival and throughout the BTF deployment. Her duties fall anywhere between leading cargo prepping and downloading to organizing the needed lodging, facilities, and vehicles for maintenance personnel.

“ great part about this trip is that I’ve been able to focus on our Airmen more,” said Lefever.   “Instead of going out to the flight line to check aircraft priorities, my focus has shifted to mentorship and spending time with the airmen, finding out how they are, who they are, and if they’re having any issues on the trip.”

As a senior non-commissioned officer (SNCO), Lefever is often the senior ranking in a room of maintenance professionals. Lefever said that being the only female SNCO maintainer in the squadron isn’t a setback, in fact she takes it in stride. Lefever said that it’s crucial to show young female maintainers that not only is this career field a place for women to exist or be successful, but to thrive and stand out. She is proud to be that example.

“As a maintenance professional, individual, and leader I don’t think I’ll ever stop growing,” said Lefever. “Throughout my service, I’ve had hard days, and I’ve had harder days, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I learned early in my career that growth doesn’t happen when you’re comfortable; it’s the tough stretches that provide the best opportunities to learn.”

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Airman 1st Class Makayla Gibbs, 28th Operation Support Squadron airfield equipment apprentice, cleans and sanitizes headgear for a pilot at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, in support of a Bomber Task Force mission, Dec. 18, 2020. Aircrew Flight Equipment Airmen are responsible for maintaining the integrity of equipment that pilots use for every mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tristan Day)
Breaking barriers: Women of the Bomber Task Force
Airman 1st Class Makayla Gibbs, 28th Operation Support Squadron airfield equipment apprentice, cleans and sanitizes headgear for a pilot at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, in support of a Bomber Task Force mission, Dec. 18, 2020. Aircrew Flight Equipment Airmen are responsible for maintaining the integrity of equipment that pilots use for every mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tristan Day)
Photo By: Senior Airman Tristan Day
VIRIN: 201218-F-BG120-0042
Airman 1st Class Gibbs works as an aircrew flight equipment apprentice within the 28th Operations Support Squadron at her home station of Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota. Her job at home and while deployed consists of inspecting all the gear needed to protect aircrew members while they are conducting sorties and missions. Gibbs’ daily schedule includes inspecting helmets, masks, harnesses, survival vests and other equipment for any damage.

“Every time there is a flight, the unthinkable could happen, and if that does we are the pilot’s last helping hand to keep them alive,” said Gibbs. “You want to go into work having a positive attitude and a level mindset to focus on the mission at hand. Which for us, is making sure the aircrew are alive and well when leaving and coming back from a flight.”

Growing up, Gibbs always had the dream of joining the military. Those dreams became a reality in 2018 when she left college and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force.

“My advice would be to not hesitate and don’t let anyone tell you [that you] can’t do it,” said Gibbs. “Put your heart into it and you can make it anywhere you desire to go.”

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Senior Airman Tristan Day, 341st Missile Wing photojournalist, photographs Bomber Task Force mission operations, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Dec. 15, 2020. As a photojournalist, Day captures the U.S. Air Force mission in the form of written words, photos and videos. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Austin McIntosh)
Breaking barriers: Women of the Bomber Task Force
Senior Airman Tristan Day, 341st Missile Wing photojournalist, photographs Bomber Task Force mission operations, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Dec.15, 2020. As a photojournalist, Day captures the U.S. Air Force mission in the form of written words, photos and videos. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Austin McIntosh)
Photo By: Airman 1st Class Austin McIntosh
VIRIN: 201219-F-XX000-0023
As a photojournalist, Senior Airman Day’s job is to “tell the Air Force story,” and she accomplishes this through capturing what wingmen do in support of the United States in the form of written words, photos and videos.

“When I was a fresh airman, I was very shy and nervous in crowds or one-on-one with people I didn’t know,” said Day. “My job has me conduct interviews and interact with many people of different ranks and different backgrounds. This has helped me grow more open and confident as an individual.”

Hailing from Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, Day was given the opportunity to join a three-person team in Guam to capture Airmen supporting the latest Bomber Task Force for Ellsworth. It has been a unique experience to capture aircraft not associated with her home base, and see the lethality of the B-1B Lancer up close through the lens of her camera.

“Just like any other career field, it will be intimidating when you start. Sometimes the only one who will empower, support and provide strength to yourself, is you,” said Day. “Pass that on to your co-workers and friends and you can change a whole unit for the better.”

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Airman 1st Class Audrey Taylor, 28th Security Forces Squadron response force leader, poses for a photo at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, in support of a Bomber Task Force mission, Dec. 26, 2020. Security Forces Airmen patrol the flightline to ensure security and guidelines are maintained. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tristan Day)
Breaking barriers: Women of the Bomber Task Force
Airman 1st Class Audrey Taylor, 28th Security Forces Squadron response force leader, poses for a photo at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, in support of a Bomber Task Force mission, Dec. 26, 2020. Security Forces Airmen patrol the flightline to ensure security and guidelines are maintained. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tristan Day)
Photo By: Senior Airman Tristan Day
VIRIN: 201226-F-BG120-0004
In December 2018, Airman 1st Class Taylor, 28th Security Forces Squadron response force leader, joined the U.S. Air Force with the intent of forging her own path with the hope of exploring what the world had to offer outside her home town.

Fast forward two years, Taylor got the opportunity to go on a BTF where she is responsible for the protection of the deployed B-1B Lancers in Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. As a defender, her job varies from working as an entry controller to leading patrols on the flightline protecting multimillion dollar resources.

“I feel like in this career field, I have grown to be more confident in myself,” said Taylor. “I feel like it helped me be a better person overall just being in security forces and in the Air Force as a whole.”

Security forces is traditionally a majority male field which can be difficult at times, according to Taylor, however she said that she feels like her squadron is very welcoming and defines everyone, regardless of gender, as defenders.

“My advice to other women is don’t let being in a male-dominated career field stop you from getting things you want,” said Taylor. “Work hard and don’t let them treat you any different just because you are a female. Everyone deserves to be treated equally, so don’t stand for anything less.”

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Airman 1st Class Olivia Vargas, 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, performs maintenance on a U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, in support of a Bomber Task Force mission, Dec. 26, 2020. Bomber Task Force maintainers ensure the bombers, such as the B-1B Lancer, and associated equipment are ready to provide airpower – anytime, anywhere. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tristan Day)
Breaking barriers: Women of the Bomber Task Force
Airman 1st Class Olivia Vargas, 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, performs maintenance on a U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, in support of a Bomber Task Force mission, Dec. 26, 2020. Bomber Task Force maintainers ensure the bombers, such as the B-1B Lancer, and associated equipment are ready to provide airpower – anytime, anywhere. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tristan Day)
Photo By: Senior Airman Tristan Day
VIRIN: 201205-F-BG120-0170
In order to get the jets off the ground, the 28th Bomb Wing has people like Airman 1st Class Vargas, who possesses a thorough knowledge of the capabilities of a B-1B Lancer as a crew chief. Her duties during the BTF include performing in-depth inspections prior to takeoffs and after the jets land. She, along with a team of highly skilled Airmen spend countless hours throughout the day and night replacing parts of the jet that break down and inspecting every inch of the aircraft for any potential hazards. 

“In high school I was more of a quiet and reserved person and now I have to be more outspoken and responsible for more than just myself,” said Vargas. “I am currently responsible for doing a job where I take care of a multimillion dollar aircraft as well as the four crew members onboard the aircraft.” 

The aircrew cannot complete the mission unless the jet is operable. Each time a B-1 takes off from the runway for a bomber task force mission, it proves the capabilities of not only the aircraft but the people who work on it. These dedicated and mission-oriented maintainers, such as Vargas, aren’t intimidated by their job, instead they embrace the responsibility.

“My advice would be to not shy away from the opportunities,” said Vargas. “Work hard and make a statement.”

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Senior Airman Krystal De Los Santos, 37th Bomb Squadron aviation resource management, hands a document to a U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer pilot, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, in support of a Bomber Task Force mission, Dec. 23, 2020. Several B-1B aircraft deployed to Andersen AFB as part of U.S. Strategic Command’s support to the National Defense Strategy objectives of strategic predictability and operational unpredictability by using a mix of different aircraft to and from various dispersed U.S. bases and other departure and arrival points, to include Guam. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tristan Day)
Breaking barriers: Women of the Bomber Task Force
Senior Airman Krystal De Los Santos, 37th Bomb Squadron aviation resource management, hands a document to a U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer pilot, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, in support of a Bomber Task Force mission, Dec. 23, 2020. Several B-1B aircraft deployed to Andersen AFB as part of U.S. Strategic Command’s support to the National Defense Strategy objectives of strategic predictability and operational unpredictability by using a mix of different aircraft to and from various dispersed U.S. bases and other departure and arrival points, to include Guam. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tristan Day)
Photo By: Senior Airman Tristan Day
VIRIN: 201223-F-BG120-1004
In order for the bomber task force missions to be successful, aircrew members rely on Airmen such as Senior Airman De Los Santos, 37th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron aviation manager. De Los Santos works behind the scenes on a daily basis, constantly checking and tracking every aircrew member’s training and record status in order to be eligible to fly the next mission.

“My favorite part about this BTF is seeing the importance of the missions that are conducted,” said De Los Santos. “Being on the BTF makes me feel proud because it shows how crucial and important our jobs can be.”

Despite being assigned to a largely male squadron, De Los Santos said that gender doesn’t play a role in her accomplishments or successes, and more than anything she feels equal to her peers.

“We shouldn’t put a limit on what we want to do because we are female,” said De Los Santos. “Women are strong and capable of doing anything if we believe in ourselves.”