WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. – --
Less than 30 enlisted Airmen know the feeling of taking flight over Whiteman Air Force Base in the B-2 Spirit, only one of those Airmen is female.
Earning Spirit Number 760, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Lambert, 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron dedicated crew chief assigned to the Spirit of New York, was awarded the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Thomas N. Barnes Award. Along with this accomplishment, she also earned an incentive flight in the stealth bomber.
The Thomas N. Barnes award names the best dedicated crew chief in the Air Force for the year. Upwards of 200 prospective awardees are nominated by their leadership, after which their record of accomplishments are submitted to be judged at multiple levels.
“I nominated Sgt. Lambert for this award because she embodies everything a dedicated crew chief is supposed to,” said U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Andrew Myers, 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron aircraft general superintendent. “Her dedication to the mission, her aircraft and her crew make her standout among her peers. She takes ownership of everything her aircraft does, to include coming to work at all kinds of obscure hours and weekends to ensure her aircraft meets the mission.”
Her commitment also caught the attention of her previous aircraft commander, Maj. James Powers.
“Her dedication to the mission is something I admire every day,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. James Powers, Eighth Air Force executive officer to the commander. “Not only is she dominating at her job, but also as a front line supervisor.”
Lambert didn’t have this award set on her sights, her primary goal was to have her name painted on her own jet.
“Ever since I entered my career field back in 2013, it became a goal of mine to be named dedicated crew chief,” said Lambert.
Designated crew chiefs hold a large amount of accountability for the readiness of a single jet. For the 509th Maintenance Squadron it is not just any jet, it is a two billion dollar stealth bomber.
To be named dedicated crew chief, Lambert had to prove she was more than capable in her ability to maintain a jet's readiness. In doing this, she reported facing many challenges of her own, including career setbacks and working in a male dominated career field.
“I went to the B-2 sortie support section as an up and coming five level and this felt like it really hindered my career goals,” Lambert said. “I was in two years in support and then returned to the flight line as a staff sergeant. I felt useless and I was so far behind where I needed to be.”
Even while feeling behind on skills and knowledge, Lambert was still able to break down barriers by consistently proving she had more than what it takes to execute the mission.
“I became ‘one of the guys’ and people slowly warmed up to the idea that I am completely competent and will always go out of my way to make sure that everything gets done in an efficient way,” said Lambert. “It took me about two and a half years, but I think that I finally got there!”
While confronting trials, Lambert still focused on her personal goals.
“I made it a goal to become an assistant dedicated crew chief and two months later I became one,” said Lambert. “Then I made the goal to become a dedicated crew chief and on August 2, 2019, I was named Dedicated Crew Chief of the Spirit of New York,”
Of course, Lambert’s work didn’t end there.
In order to retain the title of dedicated crew chief, Airmen must continually uphold their jet’s readiness.
“When I took over the Spirit of New York, I had a lot of work to do,” said Lambert. “I worked 12 hour days for a year and a half straight to learn everything there was to know about my jet. I came in early every time it flew and stayed late to catch it. I take pride in everything that I do and for that I quickly became one of the go-to crew chiefs.''
Lambert was presented an incentive flight in the stealth bomber for receiving this award, an opportunity less than 30 Airmen have had.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Lambert. “I am the first female enlisted crew chief to fly in the B-2 Spirit and that is incredible. I love that I get to be a part of history as someone that other girls can look up to and know that if I can do this, they can too.”
Even though Powers permanently changed stations, he still wanted to commemorate Lambert’s achievement.
While on a temporary duty assignment, Powers flew this historical flight, taking the opportunity to soar over Whiteman AFB with Lambert.
“I knew if she won the award, I would do everything in my power to try and get into that flight because it’s a big deal and she definitely earned that honor,” said Powers.
Powers and Lambert demonstrated an exemplary partnership during his time as the aircraft commander, by maintaining positive, instrumental correspondence, necessary to keep the mission going.
By staying true to her goals and remaining loyal to the mission, Lambert overcame the gender biases.
“As females, we are talked to like we never earn anything,” said Lambert. “Any awards we receive, it’s because we are girls, not because we earned it through long hours and dedication to our craft. I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into making my aircraft one of the best jets in the fleet, so I earned this. When I received Crew Chief of the Year, it was the proudest moment I have had in my career so far.”