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Guardswoman makes history at 162nd

Senior Master Sgt. Yvonne Shealy discusses repairs to an accessory drive gear box that caused suspected aircraft vibration with Staff Sgt. Jaryd Lamore. Sergeant Lamore is an aircraft maintenance technician for the 148th Aircraft Maintenance Flight. (Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Sarah Elliott)

Senior Master Sgt. Yvonne Shealy discusses repairs to an accessory drive gear box that caused suspected aircraft vibration with Staff Sgt. Jaryd Lamore. Sergeant Lamore is an aircraft maintenance technician for the 148th Aircraft Maintenance Flight. (Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Sarah Elliott)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Keeping the world's most advanced F-16s up and running isn't a "man's" job - but rather a woman's. 

At the Arizona Air National Guard's 162nd Fighter Wing at Tucson Airport a fleet of F-16 Desert Falcon's from the United Arab Emirates Air Force are maintained under the supervision of Senior Master Sgt. Yvonne Shealy, the first woman to take on the position. 

Since January 2008, Sergeant Shealy has served as production superintendent for the 148th Aircraft Maintenance Flight here, leading both American and UAE Airmen. They keep "block 60" F-16s mission capable in support of the wing's full-time mission to train international F-16 pilots. 

"It's been wonderful... the UAE folks are fantastic guys," said Sergeant Shealy. "Together we make sure all the scheduled maintenance happens, and make sure the flying schedule requirements are met so our instructor pilots here can train student pilots. And all this is done while ensuring the safety, efficiency, manpower and parts to make it all work." 

The Prosperity, S.C., native may be the first woman in her current position, but she's not the first Senior Master Sgt. Shealy. 

"I'm the second Senior Master Sgt. Shealy," she said. "My father was the first. So when I made this rank it was quite a glowing accomplishment for me and my family." 

Shealy's path to success started in the late 1970's at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. As an active duty crew chief, she learned to make adjustments and meet the challenges of a male-dominated career field. 

"I was one of first women in maintenance," said Sergeant Shealy. "Working on F-4s, there was a lot of heavy equipment. I soon learned that I had to be just as tough as the other maintainers and carry my weight, and I had to learn how to get people to take me seriously back then." 

She transferred to the 162nd in 1987 and since then she's served as a crew chief and a flight chief while earning bachelor's and master's degrees from Embry Riddle. 

"Being in the position I'm in now, and having the respect of the guys that I work with is a big accomplishment for me professionally," she said. "Receiving a master's degree and a bachelor's degree are also big for me. My advice to any Airman is to step it up a few notches if you are going to make it out here. You've got to give yourself every opportunity to succeed and advance. Take advantage of every civilian and military education opportunity out there." 

According to Chief Master Sgt. Bill Minter, former 148th superintendent, Sergeant Shealy is the right person for the job. 

"She takes care of all the crew chiefs, avionics technicians and weapons people under her, and when I moved to manage the Security Forces squadron for the wing, the mission-capable statistics at the 148th went up," said the chief. "With my career coming to a close, it's good to know that people like her are here to lead and influence our newer troops for years to come." 

In August, Shealy will experience another "first." Her team will deploy with UAE maintainers to Nellis to participate in Red Flag. 

"We're going to work side by side," she said. "Everything a Guard maintainer will do at Red Flag, a UAE maintainer will do also. It's such a rewarding experience to have a part in training our allies and helping to advance international relations."