By Senior Airman Aaron J. Jenne, 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published June 30, 2017
DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. --
Throughout 2016, Team Dover’s Isochronal Inspection Dock was in the midst of a leadership turnover. They heard they were getting a new commander, and that commander would be a woman.
A few days later, a new airman first class walked into their shop. Not what they expected, the 40-year-old woman in the uniform stood out in stark contrast to the typical 18 to 20 year old they were expecting.
“As soon as we saw her, the rumors started flying,” said Tech. Sgt. Kevin Taylor, 436th Maintenance Squadron Regional ISO Dock NCO in charge of the consolidated tool krib. “Everyone was certain she was an undercover commander or [a special agent in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations]. The rumor mill was pretty strong for a good eight to ten months. It took that long for everyone to accept it wasn’t a trick.”
It was no trick. Airman 1st Class Stacey Deluca, now almost 42, had been a hair dresser for nearly 20 years. She owned her own business in Lyndonville, Vermont, and employed five subcontracted beauticians. She had a family, a house, a profession. And for her, it was time for a change. She just didn’t quite know it yet.
In a reversal of the typical roles, it wasn’t until her son, now a security forces member at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, graduated from Basic Military Training that she knew what she wanted to do. When he graduated from technical school and returned to Vermont to participate in the recruiter’s assistance program, he helped start his mother’s paperwork.
It was a long and hard process, but in the end Deluca was accepted for military service.
She had to meet all the military’s requirements without submitting a single waiver, pass a physical assessment at 18 year-old standards and have a completely clean credit history; no easy task when she owned a house, business and had children. All this was difficult, but she accomplished it in a number of months proving the lengths she was willing to go to achieve her dreams.
“They made me jump through hoops, but I wasn’t deterred,” Deluca said. “I knew what I wanted, and I did what it took to get there. I think that’s what you get from somebody joining the military at my age; we know it’s going to be tough, but we aren’t going to accept defeat easily. I wish we had a lot more Airmen my age.”
At Dover AFB, this insatiable drive was noticed immediately, perhaps part of the reason she was mistaken for an undercover commander. She completed her upgrade training from apprentice to craftsman months before the deadline, and found herself in limbo waiting for her records to update so she could actually do her job.
Rather than wait for tasking, she actively sought work, and she tackled each job with enthusiasm, Taylor said. So, when she was asked to take an inventory of the ISO Dock’s CTK and reorganize the parts, she jumped at the challenge.
She did such an excellent job with that task that today, she’s in charge of completely overhauling the $685,000 program.
“She’s my go-to person,” Taylor said. “That’s why she’s in charge of our biggest program, organizing more than 800 bench stock items and completely reworking the program. She rebuilt the entire system, and now the accounting codes have changed, so she’s doing it all again, but I have absolute faith that she’s absolutely the right person for the job.”
Taylor added that Deluca has a very mature understanding of her career, goals and what’s important to her. Joining at 39 limits her career. There is no guarantee whether she’ll be able to extend past 20 years, so that means if she is to meet her goal of achieving the rank of chief master sergeant, she’ll have to do it quickly.
“If I could clone her, I would,” Taylor said. “I’d love to have about ten more of her. We’d be the best-run shop on base. I think a lot of it is age and maturity; she’s had 20 years of life experiences that brought her here today, and frankly, she’s better for it.”
But, Deluca says her secret for success comes from her life experiences as a mother and a hairdresser.
“Being a hairdresser, you can’t really have a bad day,” Deluca said. “That’s something I bring to work with me every day. Nobody talks to me until I get a ‘good morning.’ And, being a mom isn’t something you can just turn off. I used to have Airmen coming to me all the time with problems, but I shut that down real quick. I’d ask, ‘what are you going to do about it,’ and point them toward a solution. I mom them to death.”
As an adult, she’s learned to skillfully use the tools she has at her disposal to be an informal leader and positive role model to her wingmen, Taylor said.
“I wish she was an NCO,” Taylor said. “She’s better than a lot of NCOs I’ve seen, but she doesn’t let her rank stop her. She handles what she can at the lowest levels, but fully understands the limitations of her rank and doesn’t overstep them. It’s all about respect. She gets it.”
Part of that respect can be traced to her maturity and life experiences, but it does shine light on an interesting component of military culture, that rank and age don’t always correlate.
“It feels sometimes like I get special treatment because of my age,” Deluca says. “It’s almost like NCOs feel like they need my permission to discipline me. It’s different being so much older than them and such a low rank, but I feel like my age helps me be a better Airman. When I am called out for doing something wrong, it only happens once.”
Not only does she learn from her mistakes, but she shares what she learns with her coworkers, improving the entire office in the process.
“Only the future knows how far Airman Deluca will go, but I’m completely confident she’ll reach her goals and make a tremendous impact wherever she finds herself,” Taylor said. “I can’t wait to see what’s next.”