Women of Steel: 911th AW recognizes Women’s Equality Day

  • Published
  • By Miroslava Bingham
  • 911th Airlift Wing

Many federal workers associate the month of March as Women’s History Month. However, they may not know that August 26 is officially recognized as Women’s Equality Day.


This year on Women’s Equality Day, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees women the right to vote. The passage of this Amendment is a testament to the courage and determination of the women and men who defied popular opinion and challenged the nation to live up to its founding principles.


Women in the armed forces, public service, and government have long served this nation by working to clear barriers, enforce laws, implement new ideas, and change people’s attitudes. Women’s Equality Day gives us an opportunity to reflect on the many benefits of true equality and the role of women in our nation. The 911 Airlift Wing team recognizes not only the significance of women’s contributions but also the value of diversity and an inclusive wing.


“We have fostered a family of trust and positive people,” said Chief Master Sgt. Benjamin Waxenfelter. “Each person in the squadron brings their own uniqueness to the table, which makes us highly effective!”


In career fields that were once predominately filled by men, today the 911th MXS as well as the 911th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron have seen a significant increase in the number of women serving as aircraft mechanics, communication-navigation technicians, sheet metal mechanics, aircraft painters and production controllers, among other career fields. They joined the Air Force for a host of different reasons including tuition assistance, to challenge themselves, wanting to do something greater than college and to serve their nation; however, one thing they had in common was their commitment to excellence and a “can-do” attitude. 


Master Sgt. Kimberly Juriga is a communications-navigation mission systems craftsman whose primary duties consist of troubleshooting and repairing all communication equipment from radios to landing systems to radar equipment on the aircraft. Juriga said when she joined the unit in 1996 at 32 years old, she recalls only four women in the entire 911th Maintenance Group. 


When asked if she had any hesitations or was intimidated by being one of the few women, she responded: “Not really. I always knew I could do anything I put my mind to – it was instilled in me.”


Master Sgt. Jay Wasko, consolidated tool kit support section flight chief with the 911th MXS, has a vivid recollection from approximately 10 years ago when no one was able to fix a particular problem with an aircraft which was urgently needed to complete a mission. He said Juriga fixed the plane in no time.


“She is one of the best technicians we have,” said Wasko.


Master Sgt. Ashley Wiley, who oversees structural maintenance section, is the only female wage grade supervisor in the 911th MXG. She joined the unit in 2012 and was eager to join the field of aircraft maintenance.


“I just wanted to do something hands on with the aircraft,” she said.


When on temporary duty assignments away from Pittsburgh, she noticed that others were surprised by her career field and service.


“People couldn’t believe I was a flight chief,” said Wiley.


Wiley’s inspiration comes from her grandfather, who was in the Army Air Corps. He told her, “Don’t be intimated; no matter what you do the Air Force will teach you!” Wiley joined maintenance and never looked back; each challenge was met head-on while remembering what her grandfather instilled in her.


Tech. Sgt. Michelle Pavcik joined the unit in 2018 as a sheet metal mechanic with the 911th MXS. She received her degree in Architectural CAD Design prior to joining but had an urge to step up her game by doing something “more hands-on.”


She said her work ethic was something she learned from her dad because he was a hard worker and never gave up. It may not be surprising, then, that one of her mottos is “challenge yourself, don’t quit, keep learning and bring it on!”


Today, all branches of services ensure there is an equal opportunity to serve for both genders and is consistent with DOD guidance. We have lifted and overturned the 1994 Pentagon decision that explicitly prohibited women from serving in combat. All military occupational specialties are now open to anyone who qualifies and meets the specific standards of the job in all services.


We should remember those everyday heroes whose names we will never know by paying tribute to the mothers, grandmothers, sisters, teachers who encouraged and edified us to be a better person in all aspects of life. 


“I didn’t have any reservations because I am a female, [and] that did not stop me,” said Airman 1st Class Lamia Bentley. “I am kind of smaller and that concerned me a little because I had to lift 70 lbs.” 


For Bentley, who now serves as a crew chief with the 911th AMXS, the legacy of her family drove her to continue onward no matter the challenges she faced. Her grandmother’s influence was especially important to her, she said.


“My grandmother is the most selfless person I know,” said Bentley. “She believed in me every step of the way.”


On this Women’s Equality Day we should pay homage and remember the trailblazers who fought for women’s suffrage and to those who are answering the call to make it a more prosperous future for all Americans. Women like Juriga, Wiley and Bentley did not choose the “traditional” career fields for women and instead paved the way into almost unchartered territory. 


When asked if she considered herself a groundbreaker for women’s equality, Juriga remained humble.


“I didn’t do anything special, I just worked,” said Juriga. “If you think you can do something, then you can. Ignore the naysayers and do it!”




"How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!"

― Maya Angelou



(Editor’s note: Some content of this article was adapted from the following link: https://www.jbsa.mil/News/News/Article/1930359/micc-commander-welcomes-all-to-womens-equality-day-observance/)