By Tech. Sgt. Shawn David McCowan, 910th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published January 26, 2006
YOUNGSTOWN AIR RESERVE STATION, Ohio --
In the little city of Erie, Pa., the Burns family raised their nine kids. Although the children all followed their own paths in life, their first-born decided to start a path all her own.
After high school, Maggie Blais, an Air Reserve Technician with Air Force Reserve Command's 910th Services Squadron, knew she wanted to do something more than the jobs in Erie, Pa. could offer. Already knowing her career limitations in Erie, she looked into the military. Although her mother, Angela, thought the military could be a great opportunity for her, her father told her the military was a man’s world.
In 1978, after plenty of thought, she joined the Air Force and moved to Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., to become a nuclear weapons specialist. She found herself in an all-male unit; a unit that had only seen one other female in its history. She took the situation in stride, but her new co-workers didn’t know what to think at first.
“It was the 70’s. Pin-ups and dirty jokes were part of the day. The men had no idea how
to act around me. We all got along well, but there was obviously some unease. There were no Military Equal Opportunity (MEO) offices or briefings or videos about harassment at work. If you want to really be a part of a new team you can’t just go in and tear their world up. If you want to fit in, you have to fit in. You just have to adjust to your work environment. If you prove yourself, they will also put forth the effort to adjust to you,” said Blais.
Far from shrinking away from her new all-male surroundings, she welcomed her surroundings. And without the luxury of MEO support or a mentoring program… Maggie
thrived there for 14 years.
“I wanted to be a welcome member of their team so instead of complaining about them I accepted them as people with their own personality. And they began to accept me. We didn’t have to have meetings with a mediator and no one had to claim to be harassed.
They adjusted to me and I adjusted to them. We ended up a very strong team.”
Her professionalism and work knowledge became a necessity in 1989. During a tour to Sicily, an unexpected mechanical problem caused her team a major scare.
“The nuclear device itself wasn’t yet in danger of going off, but there were a lot of other things that can go wrong on those weapons. What did go wrong put 300 people in the immediate area in danger. Our team worked quickly and quietly and the bad situation was turned into ‘no situation’.”
Blais left the Air Force in 1992. By then she’d gotten married and had two children; Melissa and Melanie. In 1995 the Blais family moved back to Erie.
“We may have given up careers, but there are much more important things. The kids didn’t understand the concept of aunts, uncles and grandparents. Other than visits, there wasn’t any real contact with the family.”
Four years after the move back to Erie, Blais missed the military. She decided to join the 910th Airlift Wing’s Services Squadron. Her care and diligence at both her Nellis job and as a mother carried over into her work at the 910th. She discovered that the
customer service-feel of Services was a perfect fit for her. Starting out a traditional reservist she eventually found a full-time position, becoming the dining facility assistant manager and Services’ Air Reserve Technician.
Her genuine care for individuals was noticed by everyone. Master Sgt. Charles Lozowski, the dining facility manager here, says the unit would come to a stand-still without her.
“The best thing she’s done for us is to become the ART. She knows all of the jobs and she knows how to teach everyone at their pace. She’s more like our mom here than a supervisor. She’s a Godsend with new troops. It’s like she immediately knows how
to connect with new people. She never just drops them off at their station. She stands by them every step of the way until they’re comfortable and it really makes a difference. She doesn’t just manage; she sincerely cares and they know it,” said Lozowski.
Sergeant Blais’ efforts were noticed by many of the inspectors when she was recently recognized as a superior performer during the November 2005 Unit Compliance Inspection here.
“Military work gives you discipline and training you just don’t get in the civilian world,” said Sergeant Blais.
Sergeant Blais considers the people of the 910th her second family and she still has plenty more years to give. She wishes everyone would have to serve for at least two years.
"I think people are better coworkers and managers when they’ve done military work,” said Sergeant Blais.
The reserve weekend continued and Sergeant Blais faded into the sea of camouflage to meet a group of Airmen who had just joined her staff. It’s a good bet that at least
one of them would soon think of her as a “mom.”