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Women continue to break barriers at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station

Thomas O'Neil-White
Aircraft Mainten.ance Unit Officer Vesper Yasahardja

Standing inside a hangar at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station one may become overawed at the size of the KC 135 military aircrafts being worked on.

Approximately 1,600 people work at the air reserve station, 1,200 of those are active duty military members and out of that number nearly 30% are women. The growing number of women means a greater opportunity for women to be hired into positions in leadership, a steady improvement within the armed forces over the decades said Chief Master Sergeant Jennifer Hilton.

Thomas O'Neil-White

“I've been in [the military] 25 years,” she said. “When I was eighteen years old and got to my first duty station I joined a squadron of about 400 people less than ten were female and there was not a female chief there wasn't a female maintenance commander there may have only been one female pilot in that entire unit and that was active duty.”

In her position as Chief Master Sergeant Hilton organizes, trains and equips reservists of the 914th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.

Also in a position of leadership is Aircraft Maintenance Unit Officer Vesper Yasahardja. The Alabama native said there is a challenge to present the military as beyond the hyper-masculine perception it has grown to be seen as by folks who may not know any better.

“Sometimes I think women might feel a need to exceed expectations or do more than their male counterparts because we are female,” Yasahardja said.

Lt. Col. Albert Knapp serves as the Maintenance Crew Commander and hired both Hilton and Yasahardja. To him, the hiring process was not about filling a quota, it was about hiring the best. Knapp credits their tenacity and communication skills as boons to his unit.

“If you can imagine, everybody has the same things going on at home, right,” he said. “We all have problems. We all everybody in this in this building today is dealing with something. And add to that the military portion where we have things that we have to do to take care of America that are there more than what an ordinary citizen would be. They take all that in are still able to take care of people.”

Thomas O'Neil-White

In February the Air Reserve Station announced the hiring of Col. Lara Morrison as the first woman to assume command of the station in its 51 years.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas moved to Western New York at the age of 14. A graduate of Buffalo State College, he majored in Communications Studies and was part of the sports staff for WBNY. When not following his beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats and Boston Red Sox, Thomas enjoys coaching youth basketball, reading Tolkien novels and seeing live music.
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