MIDDLE RIVER, Md. – A little past 6 a.m, just before the start of the duty day, Senior Airman Jayme Bradley arrives at the 175th Maintenance Squadron phase hanger. Typically among the first to arrive at the hangar with fresh coffee in hand, sometimes with an additional cup for a coworker, she checks the flying schedule and begins her day.
For Bradley, an electrical and environmental specialist, each day at the 175th Wing presents new and unique challenges while repairing the electrical components of the A-10C Thunderbolt II aircraft.
"You know, it's like a puzzle," said Bradley. "It's just something different all the time. You find the problem and use your hands and you fix it."
As a self-proclaimed tomboy who grew up on a tobacco farm in rural North Carolina, Bradley is used to hard work and working with her hands to troubleshoot issues. She was raised by her grandparents and spent time watching her grandfather, who was an electrician, tinker with things. Bradley describes him as a source of inspiration.
"I just always wanted to make him proud," said Bradley. "I was definitely a papaw's girl."
Shortly after a brief stint taking college-level electrical courses, she met her husband, Ron, who she moved with to Maryland to help him care for his elderly parents.
"He was serving as a Marine in North Carolina," Bradley said. "He got out because his parent's health was failing. So we ended up moving here to Maryland in '03. Ron worked and I took care of home. That's not my gig, but you do what you have to do."
Bradley spent more than a decade acting as a caretaker for her husband's parents. Following her father-in-law's death, her husband suffered a severe injury leaving him unable to work. This led her to pursue a goal she had put aside long ago - joining the military.
"There we were, I mean, we were barely making it," explains Bradley. "[So now] it was my turn. It was my chance to do what I wanted to do."
At the age of 36, she enlisted into the Maryland Air National Guard and shipped off to basic military training. Despite her fears and hesitations, she explained she found something she didn't expect to find in her military career - a second family.
"It was the absolute best thing I've ever done," said Bradley. "I ended up being Mama Bradley in [basic training]. Right before we would go to bed, when the MTIs would leave us alone, legit like 6-10 girls would line up because they wanted a mom hug."
She still keeps in touch with many of her basic training sisters. This sense of family didn't end at basic training. It wasn't long before she found a new sense of family at her duty station at the 175th Wing. From comforting her fear of flying during stateside training missions or cracking jokes, Bradley's new coworkers didn't hesitate to make her feel at home.
"This shop is our family," Bradley said. "But then you go out into that hangar with all those fellows and they're just an extension of that family. You end up caring about people in all kinds of different ways. You don't get that everywhere you go. They are so good to me."
As the only full-time female Airman in her shop, Bradley expressed her initial concerns about feeling like the odd person out.
"I'm hard on myself, but they don't require it of me," she said. "I push myself really hard because I know I'm in a male-dominated field and I want to be better than good."
However, her concerns were quickly relieved as she found an acceptance she didn't expect.
"They never make me feel like an outsider, you know, just accepted me," explains Bradley. "I never wanted special treatment. I just wanted to be accepted and I didn't even have to ask. That's what they gave me."
Despite her concerns, Bradley's work ethic and dedication doesn't go unnoticed.
"None of us are perfect, but she definitely knows what she's doing," says Staff Sgt. William Klingenstein, an electrical and environmental specialist for the 175th Maintenance Squadron. "She's smart. She's very dedicated and willing to volunteer for just about anything."
Bradley's enthusiasm for working hard isn't the only thing that sets her apart. Klingenstein said her compassion and willingness to take care of her fellow wingmen makes her an exceptional Airman.
"She's willing to go out of her way for people because she cares," said Klingenstein. "For example, if someone lost a family member, it doesn't matter if she knew them or not, she's gonna send them flowers or go out of her way to do anything for them. Having someone with a lot of heart like that is pretty hard to come by."
This appreciation is mutual for Bradley and her coworkers.
"I'm thankful for the friendship, brutal honesty, acceptance and camaraderie this work family brings to my life," said Bradley. "My coworkers constantly challenge me and my abilities, and the thing is, they're not trying to break me down. Instead, they're trying to build me up, knowing as a team we will all be better for it."