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By Staff Sgt. Tawny Schmit
In hangar D at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, the constant whine of a UH-60 Blackhawk and the metallic, orchestrated sounds of daily maintenance checks being conducted can always be heard. Tucked into a corner, with stacks of materials meticulously organized and various tools laid out neatly on workbenches, is the sheet metal shop.
At least six days a week and often late at night, Pfc. Genevieve Godgow can be found in a pair of safety glasses and protective ear plugs, working in the shop that her and one other female operate together. According to Staff Sgt. Rose Barton, a quality control technical inspector attached to 3rd Battalion, 238th General Support Aviation Battalion, Delaware Army National Guard, this is a rare opportunity in Army aviation units, where women can be hard to come by.
“It’s nice to see because she’s female,” said Barton, “and you don’t normally get a lot of females in sheet metal because it’s perceived as a ‘dirty job.’ But she loves it and she’s really good at it.”
As an aircraft structural repairer attached to the 3-238th GSAB, Godgow’s primary job is to fix or reinforce the frames and rotors of aircraft by creating new parts out of metal and fiberglass. However, joining the National Guard wasn’t Godgow’s plan when she moved to the U.S. by herself at 17.
She was accepted at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, where she was going to study to be a lawyer. But after learning about the structural stability and education benefits the Washington Army National Guard had to offer, she changed the trajectory of her career. Despite not knowing how to work a hammer or drill, she jumped into a trade job.
Upon completing her initial training, Godgow joined Company D, 1st Battalion, 168th GSAB, which she credits for all the skills she’s using now to support the mission in Kosovo. After moving to Virginia to be closer to her mother, she declined an interstate transfer and flies back each month to drill with the unit she considers family.
“That unit is the best unit,” said Godgow. “They take care of me. A lot of them have helped me grow as a person and they’ve helped me learn about my job. All of what I’ve brought on this deployment is from that unit.”
Even though she’s attached to the 3-238th GSAB on her deployment, Soldiers with the 1-168th GSAB serving in Kosovo still check up on Godgow. This includes Barton, who has worked with Godgow in Washington the last few years and now inspects her work on aircraft.
Godgow’s impact on the unit’s mission capability is tangible. In the beginning of their deployment, she spent long hours working on the firewall of a Blackhawk, which surrounds the engine. Firewalls can crack at the rivets that hold the structure together, and it’s notoriously difficult to work on, said Barton.
As Godgow tackled this labor-intensive and often frustrating task, Barton watched her remain calm and go out of her way to do the repairs right so they wouldn’t need fixed again after a short time. When the firewall was finally cleared, the results of a job well done hit home for Godgow.
“I enjoy my job so much,” said Godgow. “It’s very rewarding because I get to see something I made with my own hands be put on an aircraft. You look at it, it works, it’s a part of something bigger, and you think, ‘I did that. I contributed.’”
Barton described sheet metal as a “vague job” in the Army that can be hard to understand, with several manuals but not many clear-cut guidelines.
Having Godgow there to break things down and back up her decisions with thorough research helps Barton in her inspection process.
“Her work is phenomenal,” said Barton. “As a technical inspector, when it comes to sheet metal, I’m going to find her. She’s the first one on the flight line to look at a problem and she’s the first one with a solution. I don’t think women should be hesitant to step into a trade job because it’s beyond possible for us to do it and excel.”
However, both Barton and Godgow understand the challenges that can come with joining a predominantly male unit.
When Godgow imagined an Army aviation unit, the image that came to her mind was of a man in sunglasses sitting in a helicopter. She said falling under a mostly male chain of command was intimidating at first.
Barton was the first female to transition to their hangar in the 1-168th GSAB. She said she received initial pushback from some men in the unit, but as time passed, she realized the quality of the work you do will outshine the doubt; and for Godgow, this rings true.
“I felt out of place for the longest time,” said Godgow, “but as time went on and I’ve seen women stepping up and becoming pilots and mechanics, it really didn’t matter. Looking back, I’ve learned this job and I’m just as capable as the next guy.”
Throughout their deployment, Barton has not only become a professional mentor for Godgow, but a friend to lean on when she’s missing home.
Godgow grew up on a small, isolated Pacific island called Yap, located in the Federated States of Micronesia. She spent her childhood building small structures with sticks and coconut leaves, and later learned how to build houses, rafts and canoes. She enjoys fishing and participating in traditional dances, and she learned English at a young age by watching American movies and television.
After moving to the U.S., she has only gone back home to visit once.
“The hardest challenge has been being away from home as long as I have,” said Godgow. “I’m an only child and have always been very guarded. I was sent into the world and for the longest time, I struggled because I felt really alone.”
Godgow didn’t always receive support from her parents like she does from Barton. She enlisted in the Army in secret, remembering her home island where men predominantly hold positions of leadership.
But after seeing their daughter’s personal and professional growth, it didn’t take long for them to become more accepting of her decision.
“The military taught me how to discipline myself, be more in control and carry myself a certain way,” said Godgow. “My family sees that I’ve gone through this positive change and are more supportive of my military career.”
As Godgow gave a tour of her shop, demonstrating how to use a brake machine to bend sheet metal and explaining the complex structure of rotor blades, her expertise and passion for her craft shone through.
As the world celebrates Women’s History Month, Godgow wants young women everywhere to know there’s no shame in doing what can be perceived as a “man’s job.”
“Watching her grow on this deployment, everything she has overcome, and all the barriers that she’s broken - I couldn’t be prouder,” said Barton.