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Home : News
NEWS | March 22, 2016

Women's History Month: Highlighting deployed women making history today

By Staff Sgt. Ian Kummer 40th Combat Aviation Brigade

CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait – Three months ago, the Army National Guard 40th Combat Aviation Brigade deployed more than 1,700 Soldiers to the Middle East. Though the 40th CAB is headquartered in California, it includes National Guard Soldiers from nine different states and active-duty units from around the country.

This highly mixed aviation task force boasts another layer of diversity; female Soldiers are integrated into almost every major job field throughout the brigade, from helicopter cockpit to the maintenance bays. Male or female, every Soldier in the 40th CAB plays a role in the mission.

Fresno, California, resident Chief Warrant Officer 2 McKayla Dembowski, a pilot and the aviation life support equipment officer for 1st Battalion, 140th Aviation Regiment, has wanted to join the military as far back as she can remember.

"I have always been interested in the military," Dembrowski said. "Even as a kid I was a part of the Naval Sea Cadet Corps."

After graduating high school, Dembowski certified as an emergency medical technician and attended the fire academy. In 2011 she joined the California Guard as a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter repairer.

When Dembowski completed her job training as a mechanic, she returned to her unit and applied to be a warrant officer and attend flight school at Fort Rucker, Alabama.

"I had a friend show me around the hanger one day, and I thought ‘Hey this looks fun," Dembowski said. "I know it sounds funny, but that's pretty much what made up my mind. I wanted to try something new. I saw an opportunity and I took it."

Since then, Dembowski has had no regrets about her decision.

"Since becoming a pilot its only pushed me to be a better person, harder worker and I've had a blast," Dembowski said.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Megan Yanacek, a medevac pilot for Company C, 2nd Battalion, 104th Aviation Regiment, shares Dembowskis longtime dream of joining the military. Throughout Yanaceks childhood, her grandfather flew helicopters and airplanes as a civilian pilot. He frequently took Yanacek and other family members along with him on flights.

"It all started with me wanting to fly," Yanacek said.

The future pilot didnt take flight right away. The Johnstown, Pennsylvania, resident joined the Pennsylvania National Guard as a medic in 2003. In September of 2008 she re-enlisted while in Camp Buehring with the 328th Brigade Support Battalion, 56th Stryker Brigade, in preparation for a mission in Iraq.

"I didnt really know what I was going to do yet, just that I wanted to do it in the Army," Yanacek said.

While serving as a medic in Iraq, Yanacek rubbed shoulders with flight medics, and was entranced by the experience.

"I thought it was the coolest thing ever," Yanacek said. "We looked up to them. Helicopters were something new to us too."

In November of 2010, Yanacek began flight school at Fort Rucker. She was the only woman in her class.

"Female pilots are few and far between," Yanacek said. "Its empowering though, chicks an fly helicopters just as well as dudes."

Pendleton, Oregon, resident Spc. Samantha Pacheco, an aircraft powertrain repairer in Company D, 1st Battalion, 168th Aviation Regiment, keeps her feet firmly planted on the ground for the most part, but that makes her no less important to the mission. Pacheco is able to inspect and repair powertrain systems on any of the 40th CABs aircraft.

After graduating high school in 2012, Pacheco began work as a direct support professional in group homes for developmentally disabled people.

"My mom did it, and I knew I could handle the job too," Pacheco said. "It was stressful, but rewarding."

Pacheco enlisted in the Oregon National Guard in 2014. With a grandpa in the Coast Guard, great-uncle in the Air Force and cousins in the Army, Pacheco is only the most recent addition to her familys military tradition.

"Ive always wanted to be in the military, and I always wanted to be a mechanic," Pacheco said.

When she arrived at her first drill weekend in January 2015, Pacheco learned she would be deploying with the unit to Kuwait later that year.

"[Deploying] was rough at first, I had to get adjusted to everyone," Pacheco said. "But now we have a pretty cool team."

Pacheco started taking opportunities to go on maintenance flights aboard helicopters. It didnt take long for her to decide she wants to apply to be a warrant officer and attend flight school when she returns from the deployment.

"It's hard to describe," Pacheco said. "I just love flying."

Pacheco looks up to her company commander, Capt. Celma Gonzalez, as a positive role model for herself and the other Soldiers.

"I love being a company commander, especially while deployed," Gonzalez said. "I try to set the example for my Soldiers by doing the right thing and conducting myself in a professional manner. My Soldiers have made the company and me successful. As long as I do everything I can to enable them to professionally grow and take care of them, they will continue to make the company successful."

Gonzalez, a Fresno resident, is no stranger to the challenges of military service. She first enlisted in the Army in 1999 and is on her third deployment.

"My family is the greatest support I have and the reason I have been able to deploy three times," Gonzalez said. "My husband was in the Army for 10 years, so it's great knowing that he understands what I'm going through. It does not matter how many times I deploy, it is always hard for my family, but they are very proud of all my accomplishments and support everything I do."

After graduating from Fresno State University with a degree in psychology, Gonzalez commissioned in the California National Guard as a medical service officer. Gonzalez plans to finish her master of social work degree at the University of Southern California when she returns home. She encourages her Soldiers to take maximize the benefits the National Guard has to offer for their own personal growth.

"Take advantage of the opportunities the military gives you and learn as much as you can," Gonzalez said. "Excel at your job and make the most of every situation."

While Gonzalez has served in the military since high school, Capt. Elizabeth Mondo, an en route critical care nurse attached to 2nd Battalion, 238th Aviation Regiment, joined the Army later in life.

Mondo, a Chicago native, studied to become an attorney and in 2002 graduated from Marquette University in Wisconsin with a degree in criminal law studies. However, Mondo wasnt satisfied.

"I felt like I wasnt doing anything to help people," Mondo said. "I wanted to make an impact."

Mondo returned to school, graduating from Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia, with a nursing degree in 2007. A career as a civilian nurse still left Mondo unfulfilled.

"I wanted to do something a little different, I wanted to work with Soldiers and wounded warriors," Mondo said.

In 2009 Mondo commissioned and embarked in her new Army medical career at Evans Hospital in Fort Carson, Colorado. Since then, Mondo has actively pursued opportunities to deploy overseas, eventually finding a home with the 40th CABs mobilization to the Middle East last December. She is proud of the opportunity women have to serve their country.

"It is an honor to be a female in the Army, its a unique experience," Mondo said. "I think were treated equally, and were a part of the evolution in our role in the military."