Women’s History Month 2023: One woman’s journey to success, paying it back

  • Published
  • By Roland Balik
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Women’s History Month highlights women from around the world and their achievements. This month, we focus on one Team Dover Airman, her challenges and successes working in a male-dominated career field and how she plans to pay it forward.

Meet Master Sgt. Nicole “Nikki” Davila, 436th Maintenance Squadron aircraft fuel systems repair section chief, who oversees all aircraft fuel system repairs on Dover AFB’s C-5M Super Galaxy and C-17 Globemaster III aircraft.

Davila, a native of Osceola, Wisconsin, is currently in charge of a 30-person shop consisting of military, civilian and Air Reserve Technician personnel. She reflected on why she joined the Air Force and her journey to her current position.

“I joined because I wanted to complete college and I really wanted to travel,” said Davila.

Davila’s first assignment was to Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, and then to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan, where she made staff sergeant, was able to travel and hone her craft.

“[At Kadena] I was able to get good at my job and definitely thought I was only going to do four years,” said Davila. “After being stationed overseas, I really loved my job and decided this would be a career.”

During her career, she noticed a pattern of being a woman in a predominantly male-saturated career field.

“As a young Airman and [noncommissioned officer], I [worked] in many work centers where I felt the challenges of usually being the only female,” she said. “I feel like there was a sense that I had to perform higher than my male peers.”

Davila felt pressured to prove herself to her male co-workers because she did not fit the traditional image of a maintainer.

“Some challenges I faced were more about beating stereotypes,” said Davila. “I felt my male counterparts thought that I did not [or] could not do as much with the aircraft in comparison. I worked through this by ensuring I knew my job, learned from my peers and showed my strength and abilities every day.”

Additionally, Davila faced safety and physical obstacles that manifested during pregnancy, which removed her from working around aircraft and landed her doing administrative duties within her squadron.

“I thought I was losing hope after I gave birth to my son,” she added. “It was challenging missing a year of experience with my job and it put me behind my peers because you can't do my job while pregnant. When I returned, I made multiple goals of getting proficient at my job and excelling in any way I could.”

Even though being pregnant with her son in 2008 and 2011 with her daughter, prevented her from working on aircraft, Davila remained focused on job knowledge, being a mother and a strong self-made educator and advocate on pregnancy rights for Airmen.

Looking back, Davila noted how the culture of the Air Force has changed since she gave birth to her son by having an Air Force Instruction in place, along with lactation rooms. “It's such an amazing change to see lactation rooms and time for women to heal and bond with their newborn,” said Davila.

Facing challenges really fueled Davila’s hunger to help people, create a good work environment and mentor others.

“Things I have done for women in the military, specifically [in] my career field [is that] I have always taken the time to mentor others in my section,” said Davila. “I have found that being a strong female mentor and wingman has been beneficial to other women in my section.”

She noted that communication and respect are key elements in establishing a healthy work environment.

“Advice I always give is communicate your comfort zone and always cultivate the professional relationships with people you work with. If you act professionally and always treat others with respect, then it is easy to demand the same,” Davila added.

While stationed at Kadena AB, Davila recalled having conversations with a fellow female aircraft maintainer.

“When I was stationed at Kadena, I worked with the most fantastic female maintainer, then-Master Sgt. [Stacy] Sporre,” said Davila. “She showed me that with hard work and dedication, you can be the best of the best.”

Hearing encouraging words from another female maintainer was all that Davila needed.

“We had a lot of very long talks about the struggles of being a female in a male-dominated world and the importance of not becoming hardened-off from negative experiences,” said Chief Master Sgt. Stacy Sporre, 1st Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 73rd Aircraft Maintenance Unit superintendent. “I think the advice I gave was to remain true to who she is. Oftentimes people feel a need to become hard as their time in the military progresses. They don't realize that it's possible to care about your people and still get the job done.”

Davila’s attitude was a catalyst for her becoming the multi-capable Airman she is.

“My first interaction with Nikki was on temporary duty to New Zealand, when she was on my shift,” said Sporre. “From day-one, I told the team we were a family and to be successful, we all needed to work as a team regardless of Air Force Specialty Code. Nikki stepped right up and learned how to recover the aircraft, chalk tires, pin gear doors, took the lead on all refuels, etc.”

Davila’s next assignment led her to Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, which ushered in more opportunities for the maintainer.

“I was selected to work at the 23rd Maintenance Group where I worked as the programs noncommissioned officer in charge,” said Davila. “During my time [there], I received my green belt certificate, which opened the door to become the first innovation cell NCOIC within the MXG.”

Along with her many successes also came lessons learned from experiences that forced her to stand up for herself, educate others, and advocate for other women.

“I think my best advice would be don't be afraid to speak,” said Davila. “So many times in my career I choose [to] ‘suck it up’ or [thought] it would get better. I wish I would have spoken up and maybe some of the challenges I faced, I could've made better.”

As part of her next career move, she plans on becoming a first sergeant, and paying it forward like those who have helped her during her career.

“Nothing lifts me up more than helping others, and first sergeant is the way I want to do that,” said Davila. “I have also been helped out many times by past first sergeants and I really feel like I can give back in the same way they helped me.”