NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. -- Fresh out of training, the only female aerial gunner assigned to the 66th Rescue Squadron arrived here. After graduating from East Valley High School in 2010, Airman 1st Class Natasha Libby said she realized she couldn't afford college. She found a job at a sandwich shop where she worked for 11 months. During that time, an Army recruiter contacted her about joining. Libby said she developed a desire to leave her hometown of Yakima, Wash., and become something more.
"I realized I wasn't going anywhere, ... so I made the choice to pursue a career in the Air Force," she said.
She went to an Air Force recruiter, hoping to start a career that would be interesting and fulfill her childhood dream of flying. Initially, Libby was designated to be an aircraft environmental systems apprentice. But two months before shipping out for basic training, her recruiter asked if she would like to be an aerial gunner. "I was stoked," Libby said. "I thought that was the coolest job ever. I might have been excited, but my family had mixed emotions. My father was very proud, and my mother was scared." While many see moving away from home for the first time as an obstacle, Libby saw it as a new beginning, providing her the opportunity to make the change in her life that she wanted. During training, she learned how to handle a weapon while flying, how to use different radios and how to survive during a crash or mishap. "I was introduced to Libby in aerial gunner school at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas," said Air Force Airman 1st Class Kevin Lerner, a fellow 66th RQS aerial gunner. "From the day I met Libby, I could tell she was a natural leader and someone who you could count on. She always had her nose in the books, trying to learn as much as she could about the subject we were learning at any given time." Libby operates weapons systems on an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter, but that is not her only responsibility. She also briefs passengers on safety and procedures and performs in-flight maintenance of airborne weapons systems. Libby said she is dedicated to mastering her craft so that when a real-world mission comes, she will excel at the highest level. Being a woman never has added pressure, she said, but instead has given her motivation to work harder. "Something I learned during training is I can achieve my goals as long as I use my mind," she said. "Everyone had to work hard during training, but I feel being a female I had to work a little harder to maintain the same level or better than the males in my class." Growing up on a cattle farm, Libby said, she grew physically and mentally tough at a young age. The work ethic and morals she learned on the farm are the same ones she applies to her job now. The Air Force's core values -- integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do -- reinforce those morals. "Those weren't new values to me," she said. "I was able to see what my parents taught me, what I learned in life, and what the Air Force has taught me, and I apply it in my everyday work environment. I don't take those values lightly." Libby said it's "cool" that she's the only female aerial gunner in her squadron of more than 100 Airmen, which includes 30 gunners. "But it doesn't change anything," she said. "I still come to work like everyone else." Libby may be at the beginning of her career, but she said she doesn't see it that way. She already has goals and aspirations of becoming a chief master sergeant and counseling Airmen to make a difference in their life. "My whole life, I have been grateful for what I have been given," she said. "When I am ready, I want to pay it back. The goal of joining (the Air Force) was to better my life, and if I can better other peoples' lives then that would be outstanding."