Thursday, February 07, 2008

First Female Engine Mechanic Retires

Marine Corps News Sgt. Michael T. Knight February 06, 2008

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, CA. - She walked in to the joint recruiting office intending to join the Army. Then she saw a Marine in dress blues. The rest is 30 years of Corps history.

Born in Pittsburgh, Maj. Lou Ann Rickley joined the Marine Corps in 1977 and blazed a trail of accomplishments, as the first female to contribute in many areas of the Corps.

She became an Aviation Mechanic and soon discovered this was her dream job when landing with a harrier unit; Marine Attack Squadron 513 Flying Nightmares. There she became qualified as the first female AV-8A Harrier Plane Captain, who is ultimately responsible for ensuring the aircrafts are ready for flight.

"I suspected that the Corps made a mistake by assigning me to this unit because it was a deployable unit and females were not yet allowed to deploy," Rickley said.

That issue was highlighted when then-Sgt. Rickley realized participation in work-ups for the unit's deployment was necessary for promotion in her field. The work-ups included sailing out aboard a ship which had no female living quarters.

"Eventually, I was allowed to sail out for one day to obtain the necessary qualifications, but had to be flown off ship the same night," Rickley said.

"I believe the obstacles Rickley faced as a female earlier in her career had a tremendous impact on creating her well known 'firm but fair' style of leadership," said Lt. Col. Vincent E. Clark, commanding officer for Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 39.

Her years on the drill field may have influenced her leadership style as well. In 1986, Rickley graduated Drill Instructor school and became a Senior Drill Instructor after one training cycle. In her tenure, she trained a total of nine platoons and all nine took home final drill trophies.

"It was a mental game," said Rickley.

"The recruits always aim to please the Senior DI. The day before final drill I would be extremely upset with their performance, whether it was good or not, and walk out. On final drill day it would all be 'snap and pop.' It worked every time," she said.
Before leaving Parris Island, she was meritoriously promoted to Gunnery Sergeant and was the first to fill the newly established position of Series Chief Drill Instructor, 4th Recruit Training Battalion.

Clearly identified as an outstanding Marine and beating every obstacle thrown her way, Rickley was just getting started.

While stationed at MALS-11, Marine Corps Air Station, El Toro, Calif., Rickley was selected to become one of only two female Warrant Officers in the Marine Corps.

"I probably would have been the first female Warrant Officer," said Rickley.

"After several unanswered submissions I gave up. It never occurred that there were no female WO's in the Corps. The year I gave up was the year they selected the first female," she said.

"I applied again and may have been selected as the second."

Rickley's first deployment came in 1996 with Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 2 to Aviano, Italy in support of Operation Decisive Endeavor, Bosnia.

As a Chief Warrant Officer, Rickley applied for the Limited Duty Officer program and was the only Aircraft Maintenance Officer selected and promoted to Captain in 1999.

That year, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364 demanded all her experience. The unit failed their maintenance inspection and Capt. Rickley was called in to fix it.

"She came in like the Tasmanian Devil," said Staff Sgt. Jessica Pfister, Maintenance Administrator, MALS 39, who was a Pfc. at the time.

"It took eight months for her to dismantle the unit and rebuild it the right way. We passed the next inspection with flying colors," she said.

Her final accomplishment as a Marine included her being promoted to Major and becoming the first female Aircraft Maintenance Limited Duty Officer in March 2005.

"Rickley has represented the epitome of all that is right in the Marine Corps and in the aircraft maintenance profession," said retired Lt. Col. Michael Nisley, Rickley's former Aircraft Maintenance Officer.

"She has strived and worked her whole career to be an equal regardless of gender, she is not a female Marine, she is a Marine who happens to be female."

Rickley's final tour as a Marine was with MALS 39 as their AMO. There is where she has made her mark not only as an outstanding Marine but an outstanding human being.

"Maj. Rickley is Mother Teresa in a Marine Corps uniform," Pfister said.

"She's very tough and accepts nothing but your best performance, but she's equally relentless at taking care of her Marines."

Rickley officially retires from of the Corps in December. But even after her retirement, she'll be first again, as a civilian contractor titled Program Management Air 226 West Coast CH-46 Helicopter Manager.

"She has earned the respect of every Marine she's touched, and the Marine Corps will benefit from her prodigious talents for years to come," Nisley concluded.

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