LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. – It was a bright, sunny day recently as Air Force Senior Airman Kimara Duncan, 94th Fighter Squadron F-22 crew chief, wheeled her toolbox out to the flightline here. The air was warm and filled with the roar of passing jets overhead as she prepared to start her shift.
As she prepared for her 10- to 12-hour work day, she readied he tools with the experience of an expert, and moved with purpose only achieved through many long hours of work. The whole time she worked, she wore the bright smile always visible on her face.
“I try to stay positive," Duncan said. "If you're negative, you can affect the mission. I try to keep in mind that I wouldn't have the same opportunities if I was anywhere else."
Most Air Force members can attest that the first question people ask them about their military career is what plane they fly, though pilots account for only 4 percent of the total force. Duncan works behind the scenes to ensure the pilots continue to complete their missions.
As a young airman just starting technical training, Duncan said, she was pleased to learn she would be trained to work on the most technologically advanced fighter jet in the world.
"I was excited when I learned I would be working on the F-22," she recalled. "I would never have the opportunity to do this job in the outside world."
Crew chiefs make sure their jet is in perfect working order. They perform preventive maintenance and pre- and post-flight inspections, and they maintain and repair the aircraft, inside and out, with general mechanical work.
Duncan is the dedicated crew chief for the 1st Fighter Wing flagship. Crew chiefs consider this to be a great honor, and it’s an even a greater accomplishment for a junior enlisted airman.
But Duncan remains grounded and focused on the mission.
"I have to set an example for my fellow airmen," she said. "Everyone looks to me to meet, and exceed, the standards."
Duncan said she wanted to run when she was informed she was to become the flagship’s dedicated crew chief, because the prospect of being put in a leadership position was daunting.
"I didn't want to be put out there," she said with a laugh. "When I first got here, I just wanted to do what I was told, and focus on my job."
Though anxious at first, Duncan said, she has taken great pride in meticulously caring for her jet in the same way a “gear head” would a prized car.
"As a crew chief, you want your jet to look good," she said. "You want to keep it clean -- not clean it because your supervisor told you to."
Dedicated crew chiefs have their names on their jet, right beneath the pilot's name. Although Duncan is past her one-year mark as dedicated crew chief for the wing’s flagship, she said, she’s still getting used to her name on the side of her jet.
"I don't think my name looks right on the plane," she added with a bright smile. "It's such a surreal feeling every time I see it."
She recalled when she had to remove the previous crew chief's name from the plane to put on her own.
"I felt bad -- almost like I was betraying him," she said. "I still can't believe it's my name on the plane."
Even with the opportunity to work with such a technologically advanced jet, Duncan said, her favorite part of the job is the people she works with.
"The 94th Fighter Squadron is one big family," she said. "On the flightline, we all look out for each other."
Duncan said she has never been discouraged being a woman in a predominately male unit. Her next goal, she added, is to become the first female crew chief on the Air Combat Command's F-22 aerial demonstration team.
"I'm grateful for everything I have," she said.