With Women’s History Month in full swing, it only makes sense for Master Sgt. Hollie Heath to celebrate the milestone of her 17th year in the Air Force this March.
Born a military brat in Yuma, Ariz., Sergeant Heath could remember her father going on exciting adventures and bringing back the proof of the journeys with exotic gifts. Specifically, she remembered the black soap her father would bring home from Spain.
“I always felt like the Air Force is where I needed to be,” the sergeant said. “I didn’t take a second thought when I enlisted. This was my calling.”
Sergeant Heath, now a production superintendent in the 721st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, is one of many female Air Force members who have faced the struggle of balancing career and family but has overcome the obstacles to be successful.
Raised with three younger brothers, Sergeant Heath did not have dolls and didn’t play dress up. Instead, she played games like cops and robbers and numerous video games.
“I was a tomboy, and I have always liked working on things,” she said. “Heck, with three brothers, what else was I supposed to do?”
It did not surprise her parents when she chose to enter the Air force as a crew chief. But, this choice also came with some hard work.
“You do have to prove yourself because you are a woman. The toolboxes out here are heavy, but you can’t complain or ask for help,” she said. “If you want to be treated like an equal, then you have play the part.”
Not only did she deal with hard times at work, but she also dealt with people talking about her. At her first duty station, Pope Air Force Base, Ark., Sergeant Heath was awarded Senior Airman Below-The-Zone.
“I remember a male saying I only won it because I was a girl,” she said. “He did not even take into account all the extra activities I was involved in.”
Although these harsh words hit her hard, Sergeant Heath did not let it get her down.
“You can’t let it get to you. Obviously, there is something wrong with them, and they are just trying to bring you down, but don’t let them,” she said.
Raising a family and having a career is difficult, but being in the military can pile on even more stress, Sergeant Heath said.
“My husband, Tech. Sgt. Christopher Heath, and I are both military, and when we had our son, Justin, it was extremely rough,” she said. “We worked on different shifts, and sometimes it felt like we were ships passing in the night.”
The first couple of years after Justin was born were hard, but the thought of quitting and being a stay at home mom never crossed her mind, she said.
“I knew there were just some sacrifices that I would have to make. My squadron was very supportive and helped me get daycare, and they really help me work the situation,” she said. “After all, we’re all just a big family.”
With women climbing up in the ranks in today’s Air Force, Sergeant Heath is also in the race ahead of her husband.
“I came into the Air Force three years before him, but in the early years it was hard on him with everyone giving him a hard time for having a wife who outranked him,” Sergeant Heath said.
As society has opened its eyes to women outranking men, so has Sergeant Heath’s husband.
“Now he is happy with it, and he says it is good for our bank account,” she said.
Being in a male dominated career field, Sergeant Heath has struggled with getting men to not treat her as a frail woman, she said.
“Getting the guys to see me as one of them has been one of the hardest things. I’ve told as many dirty jokes as they have to get in with them,” she said jokingly. “They have to respect me, but I don’t want them to treat me like an outsider.”
But the men she works with only have good things to say about her.
“She’s great,” said Master Sgt. Mark Mueller, 721st AMXS productionsuperintendent. “There are a lot of women who work in maintenance, and they either stick to themselves or they stand up and let it be known they are there. Males are always trying to be dominating and sometimes overlook the women who are quiet. Sergeant Heath will not let herself be overlooked.”
With 17 years under her belt, Sergeant Heath has advice for young women who want to enlist in the Air Force.
“Have a thick skin if you come in the maintenance field,” she said. “You are expected to do your job, so do it to the highest standard.”