The Harsh Reality
By Keylle Locklear, United States Air Force
I wanted to be important. I wanted to find my purpose, help people, see the world. I wanted to leave the small town I grew up in and do something extraordinary. I sat down in the recruiter’s office and began the process of joining the United States Air Force. I had high hopes for myself and an even deeper faith in the family I was going to become a part of. Those fantasies lasted all throughout my training, but they vanished upon arrival to Okinawa, Japan.
I graduated first in my technical school class consisting of sixteen males and myself, but that didn’t matter. I stood in front of my flight chiefs for the first time. They all but laughed in my face as I anxiously introduced myself. It was immediately obvious to me that I was not who they were anticipating to meet. Apparently, females that have groomed eyebrows could not possibly perform mechanical duties adequately. They made several remarks regarding my size and appearance, 5’1” and just under 100 pounds at the time, which came unexpected considering it was never something I encountered during training or during my time in tech school.
As I continued through the labyrinth of offices, completing in processing, it was becoming real to me that everyone held the same opinion. “Crew Chief? Oh you will get a desk job soon” and “try not to get pregnant right away” were among my initial welcomes. Some just laughed a little and offered me good luck. This only made me desperately eager to prove myself. I then walked past the Crew Chief’s break room where I could hear the jungle. Loud yells, laughs, and profanity bounced from wall to wall. Someone spotted me, and I heard an argument break out over who had called “dibs” on me before I arrived. As if I was a dollar bill on the ground or the front seat of a full car. As if I couldn’t hear them.
I completed all of my upgrade training tasks faster than anyone else at my skill level, but that didn’t matter. TDY’s are temporary deployments, and in my squadron they were always sent to incredible places across Asia. Not to mention, the more TDYs you went on the better chance you had to receive awards. These trips were very much considered an incentive. I stared at that TDY board everyday looking for my name. I never found it, not even once. The problem was that higher level crew chief’s got to choose who went on TDY with them. Instead of choosing the most deserving or most qualified, they would request the airmen they liked best to go along and get the opportunity to see these amazing places. My heart was beginning to ache. I was working so hard to earn respect and to be viewed as a capable, as a valuable part of the team, but with each day I grew more discouraged. I would later be grateful I never went on TDY.
I didn’t want to hear it, but that didn’t matter. I was forced to hear the stories of the ever so coveted TDYs. They would return with tales so disgusting and frightening their words will be forever burned into my memory. Stories of men with wives and children buying prostitutes for “less than five US dollars!” all were responded to with countless high fives. Everyone gathered around to hear about what objects were able to be shoved into the foreign performers at the outrageous strip clubs. I even overheard a conversation between two of my supervisors in which one of them openly admitted to having forced himself onto a woman the previous night. In the midst of my bewilderment, anger grew. My blood was hot and my ears felt like I had burned them with the curling iron. I was certain that they had zero respect for the female gender, as I also heard on a regular basis that “females didn’t belong on the flight line.” It was beginning to tear me up inside.
I went out to the line everyday with a positive and professional attitude, but that didn’t matter. Sexual harassment and assault are the leading causes of PTSD in female military members (“Military”). If you left something in the break room, it was sure to have a sharpie phallus drawn on it within just a few minutes. I was even so lucky to get my kitten shaped pipe cleaner cubby buddy turned into a phallus form and placed on display in my mailbox for all to see.
Of course, the snowball turns into an avalanche. I was hard at work on a stand replacing a C-130 nose radome. There were three men of higher rank talking on the ground below me. I could feel them staring at me, so I stopped and turned to see if maybe I was doing something wrong. “We aren’t looking at you” one replied, “we’re staring at your ass.” It was useless. I would never be their equal. Despite my genuine efforts it was just impossible. They saw me as inferior, and I even started to believe it.
Relaxing after work offered no escape either. In fact, it was worse. My superiors would have a little too much to drink and begin to get handsy. On occasion, I was grabbed and groped. It became so frustrating that I stopped going out at all. While living in the dorms, inhabitants would knock on my door and try to shove their way inside. It was difficult to face someone at work that disrespected you the night before, much less take orders from him. I now hated these men. All of them. I was afraid. They made it impossible for me to feel safe at work or even at home.
I tried to get help, but that didn’t matter. Most of my immediate supervisors recommended I “get thick skin.” Some thought I was just unhappy with my job or I was being a girl about it. I was losing faith in humanity by this point. I was not sleeping, but I didn’t want to get out of bed in the mornings. I felt worthless and endlessly exhausted. I sought help from my first sergeant, chaplain, counselors, the whole nine yards. Nothing. All they wanted me to do was file a report. However, I knew these people. I knew the retaliation that would come from filing a report. What would I even do, report the whole section? So, there was nothing anyone could do for me. I couldn’t switch jobs, nor was I able to switch stations. I was trapped here with these people.
All of this eventually led to the painful demise of my short-lived two-and-a-half-year military career. I wish someone could have warned me of these harsh realities women face daily in our armed forces. Sometimes I also wish I could have waited it out until the end, but I fear there is a great chance something worse would have inevitably resulted. Unfortunately, I do not believe that these men will ever change. Regardless of how much mandatory sexual assault and harassment training is provided, I have seen first hand just how unimportant it is to them. They just don’t want to change; they are too far gone.
“Military Sexual Violence.” Service Women’s Action Network. N.p., 12 Sept. 2014. Web. 29 Sept. 2015.
Keylle Locklear served in the United States Air Force as an Aerospace Maintenance Technician from January 2012 to March 2014. She was stationed in Kadena AFB on Okinawa, Japan. While serving, she was well-known for her volunteerism, and she was awarded the Distinguished Graduate title while in technical school training.