Pride in Service

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Dhruv Gopinath
  • 449th Air Expeditionary Group

The 449th Air Expeditionary Group, based at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti has an incredibly varied mission set that brings together a diverse group of Airmen from across the Air Force to support operations for U.S. Air Forces Africa. The 449th AEG’s Airmen support missions that provide secure, reliable, flexible power projection capabilities in East Africa.

The importance of the 449th AEG’s airlift mission places a great deal of responsibility upon its air transportation specialists. Staff Sgt. Courtney Martinez works as part of a team of two “port dawgs” who handle logistics for the group.

“We are responsible for all AFAF cargo movement in East Africa,” says Martinez. “We prepare cargo for air movement, check for airworthiness, build load plans, inspect hazardous cargo, load and unload aircraft.”

East Africa provides a very different work experience for Martinez than her home station of Dover AFB, Delaware, which hosts one of the largest aerial port operations in the Air Force. While the mission in Africa may be smaller in scale, she believes that its impact allows her to see a side of the job that she wouldn’t back home.

“The fact that there are only two of us really allows us to utilize and apply all of our job knowledge and forces us to be creative to get the job done,” Courtney said. “We get to be part of the process from start to finish and work with agencies and career fields we normally wouldn’t.”

Courtney Martinez has been serving in the Air Force for just over four years, having worked as a manager at a gym prior to enlisting. However, she wanted a change, one that the military was able to provide.

“I joined the Air Force a little later in life, at 26. I wanted to do something more fulfilling and I wanted more opportunities,” Martinez said. “I also wanted to finish my degree and have the chance to travel. It is definitely challenging but also rewarding and I don't ever feel stuck in monotony.”

As part of her deployment to Djibouti, Courtney had to leave her wife Lilly behind in Delaware. Though openly gay service members have been accepted in the military since the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” in 2011, Martinez understands the significance of being able to serve her country.

“It's important to remember that the journey towards equality is more recent than some may think,” says Courtney. “I am grateful that I was both able to legally marry the woman I love and to openly serve as a gay woman in the United States Military.”

With June being Pride Month and falling in the middle of her deployment, Martinez has a chance to reflect on the strides made by the LGBTQ+ community not only in the military but in society as a whole.

“To me, this month signifies the power of visibility and celebration,” said Courtney. “My wife and I are very proud of who we are and are proud to love one another. Pride month allows us to embrace our authentic selves while recognizing that we are not alone.”

That willingness to accept people for who they are and work alongside them is incredibly important when part of a team or society and that applies to the Air Force as well.

“Our unique differences and experiences all contribute to the team's strength and foster a richer and more diverse community,” says Martinez. “It is beneficial to both individuals and organizations by creating a positive and productive atmosphere where everyone can thrive.”

Courtney’s attitude and hard work have made an impact on those she serves alongside in East Africa since the moment she arrived.

“She’s so determined, ambitious, driven and has an unbelievable work ethic,” says Senior Airman Jansen Esteves, Courtney’s troop and fellow port dawg at the 449th AEG. “As a teammate and a mentor, she motivates others to always strive for the best quality work.”

“Courtney's knowledge has been critical to our movements,” says Maj. Evan Mersel, chief of the 449th AEG Logistics Operations Cell. “She has provided air transportation fundamentals training to three expeditionary squadrons in the Horn of Africa and mentored her coworkers on working with non-Air Mobility Command aircraft.”

By building a team-focused culture based on inclusion, the 449th AEG has been an assignment that Martinez has come to appreciate despite being far from home and her loved ones.

“My time here with this team has been an adventure,” says Courtney. “Every day is filled with doing something new, meeting new people and making some really cool missions happen. It has been a super rewarding experience!”