MARCH 29, 2018, Taji Military Complex, Iraq – A torque wrench squeals as it secures the bolts of a forward support tube onto a UH-60 Black Hawk engine in a maintenance shop March 23.
U.S. Army 1st Battalion, 126 Aviation Regiment (General Support Aviation Battalion) aircraft power plant repairer Spc Kathleen Scanlon, works with her fellow Soldiers to troubleshoot and correct maintenance issues for Black Hawks and CH-47 Chinooks that provide the 449th Combat Aviation Brigade with aviation assets to support the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve mission.
“In a typical day, I might start out by helping a maintenance test pilot and another aircraft power plant repairer conduct an engine wash on a Black Hawk,” said Scanlon.
This ability of troubleshooting two very different aircrafts contributes to just another day in the maintenance world for this Cleveland, Ohio native. Aircraft power plant repairers supervise, inspect and perform maintenance on aircraft turbine engines and components ensuring airplanes and helicopters are safe and ready to fly.
“I joined hoping to become a pilot, but I chose to enlist as an aircraft power plant repairer instead of an officer candidate to guarantee that I’d be able to contribute to the aviation mission even if I never got the opportunity to fly,” said Scanlon. “I never had a chance to take auto shop courses in school, so taking the enlisted route was also a way to gain the practical mechanical experience I’d always wanted.”
Scanlon explained that during the pursuit of her doctorate degree in geology at Brown University, she came across awards of Army officers at the university that sparked her interest in aviation.
“I have always wanted to be a military aviator,” Scanlon admitted. “Halfway through my degree program, I came across [now retired] Lt. Col. Bruce Crandall’s Medal of Honor citation, describing his and Maj. Ed Freeman’s 16 hours of flights carrying supplies to wounded soldiers from the Ia Drang Valley under heavy fire during the Vietnam War. That led me to reading more about medevac, and I learned that medevac was part of the aviation mission in the Rhode Island Army National Guard.”
The Rhode Island National Guard is composed of the 56th Troop Command, 43rd Military Police Brigade, 143rd Airlift Wing, 281st Combat Communications Group, 102nd Information Warfare Squadron, Special Operations Detachment Global, and the RING Medical Command, that provide a broad range of military assets to the state.
The skies have always been the driving force for this Soldier. Scanlon is drawn to the intricate details that push the vessels of the sky but is also drawn to a much further force in her civilian career.
“Planetary geology is a very broad field of study, but my career so far has mostly focused on two things: glacio-volcanic landforms, which is landforms that resulted from lava coming into contact with ice on Mars and relating climate models for ancient Mars to the locations of ancient Martian lakes and rivers whose dried-out remnants we can observe today,” said Scanlon.
She also said that she runs computer simulations that analyze weather on Mars four billion years ago, uses satellite photos to map lava flow and hikes across Western Australia to look for the oldest evidence of life on Earth further strengthening her research for life on Mars.
While Scanlon is quickly approaching her two-year mark in her military career she has already been a positive role model sparking curiosity out of her fellow Soldiers.
“My favorite thing about my job in the Army is the people I work with,” Scanlon explained. “Soldiers in D Company cheer each other’s successes, take care of each other when something’s wrong and have the sense of humor to make anything fun.”
She explains how her companions joke around by saying things like “PAGING DR. SCANLON” across the flight line, ask if she can build them a time machine to undo something their buddy just did, deciding that she must hero-worship Elon Musk, deciding that she must want to fistfight Elon Musk, or deciding that she is secretly Elon Musk.
She also said they ask her great, insightful planetary science questions they’d been wondering about. “Does Jupiter have a rocky surface in the same sense Earth or Mars does?”
Scanlon explained that she enjoys the different spectrums of both her jobs in and out of the Army.
“I grew up aspiring to be an astronaut,” said Scanlon. “As far as I’m concerned, if I have a full-time job physically exploring remote places on Earth while exploring space with satellites and rovers, and a part-time job either maintaining or flying gorgeously complicated aircraft in the service of my country, I’m living the dream whether I ever make it to space or not.”
By Staff Sgt. Leticia Samuels