GRAF IGNATIEVO AIR BASE, Bulgaria --
To be a crew chief requires an individual to be resilient and ready for anything thrown their way. Crew chiefs work tireless hours in the blazing sun, pouring rain, or numbing cold to get their aircraft in the air and complete the mission.
Senior Airman Brooke Parks, 555th Aircraft Maintenance Unit (AMU) F-16 Fighting Falcon crew chief at Aviano Air Base, Italy, said she wears that title pridefully. Out of 61 crew chiefs in the 555th AMU, she is the only female crew chief who works on the flightline.
“Senior Airman Parks, along with all the other female Nickel maintainers are out there every day working just as hard as anyone else in the unit,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Reid Chlasta, 31st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron officer in charge. “Our team takes pride in our diversity, and it’s genuinely amazing to see the energy that she brings to the Nickel AMU when we are out there executing the mission.”
Parks is originally from Hagerstown, Maryland and attended West Virginia University, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in criminology. While there, she interned at a maximum facility prison. Parks then decided to enlist in the U.S. Air Force December 2018.
“After I graduated, getting a job wasn't as easy as I thought it was going to be,” said Parks. “The prison system wanted government experience in most jobs that I looked into. I wasn't really in the best situation so this was the best thing for me financially and career wise.”
She understands the large responsibility she holds as a crew chief which fuels her to do the best she possibly can.
“It’s very empowering and I know what a large responsibility it holds, so I wear it very pridefully,” Parks said. “I feel like I have to hold myself to a higher standard, in a way. At the end of the day that's my name, that’s my title. If I go in there being a terrible female crew chief, how does that look on the rest of the women in the maintenance career field?”
Originally, becoming a crew chief wasn’t her first choice, but she said she’s learned to love the career field.
“I've found a deep passion and love for it,” said Parks. “There's such a great responsibility behind it. When you see your jet flying, after the hours of hard labor that you put in, it's the most rewarding thing I think I've ever experienced in my life.”
Just two months after arriving at Aviano Air Base in August 2019, she deployed to Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
“My first launch was a combat launch,” explained Parks. “I had great supervision and I had great people beside me who I knew weren't going to let me fail.”
As the only female crew chief working the flightline in the 555th AMU, Parks said she wants to set an example for female crew chiefs that will arrive in the future.
“I go out and I put everything into it,” said Parks. “I don't want to fail myself and I don't want to fail the other female crew chiefs who were in before me or after me.”
During her day-to-day operations as a crew chief, Parks services, inspects, refuels, changes tires, and performs heavy maintenance on F-16s.
“Crew chiefs are the jack of all trades,” said Parks. “When we find something wrong with one of the systems that isn’t our specialty, we call in a specialist.”
To further advance in her career, Parks is working on her master’s degree in homeland security management and plans to commission as a U.S. Air Force officer.
“Honestly any career field they put me in, I just want to serve,” said Parks. “I'm putting together a package, but I'm gonna try to finish my masters first. I should hopefully finish my master’s in the spring.”
Despite the long hours and hard labor that comes with being a crew chief, Parks knows she can rely on her teammates and supervision to help guide her.
“I enjoy working beside my other crew chiefs,” said Parks. “The bond that we have, it's like a family. We have so much passion. We always have each other's backs and we'll never let one another fail. If one of us is struggling, we’re there to pick each other up. If we see somebody is down and out, we're there to uplift them.”
Crew chiefs help keep the mission going each and every day through constant hard work and perseverance.
“Crew chiefs are the people who are pushing the pace every day, generating safe, reliable aircraft for our pilots,” said Chalsta. “Their attention to detail, work ethic and tenacity are what keeps our fleet ready to execute any type of mission that comes our way.”