I Am An American Airman - Chief Master Sgt. Karen Cozza

102nd Intelligence Wing Command Chief Master Sgt. Chief Master Sgt. Karen P. Cozza

102nd Intelligence Wing Command Chief Master Sgt. Chief Master Sgt. Karen P. Cozza

OTIS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mass. -- It was a cloudless day when a Sailor in the Navy Reserve took his young daughter with him to attend an airshow at the now decommissioned Naval Air Station South Weymouth in Weymouth, Mass. Young Karen, a small child in the crowd, became mesmerized by the engineering marvels she saw flying across the sky. It was certainly beyond her wildest dreams that she would one day become a maintainer for the United States Air Force.

The late spring night in February 1980 when Chief Master Sgt. Karen P. Cozza, the Command Chief Master Sergeant of the 102nd Intelligence Wing at Otis Air National Guard Base, stepped off the bus to attend the Air Force Basic Military Training, marked the beginning of a distinguished career that would last 36 years.

“I was going into teaching,” said Cozza on the time she spent at Bridgewater State University. “Half of my friends who graduated couldn’t find jobs in the ‘80s and maybe three actually became teachers.”

Cozza thought she wanted to try something different, a friend suggested going into the military, so she decided to see if the Air Force would be a good fit for her.

“I was in the back-shop,” Cozza remarked on the beginning of her career at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. “I wasn’t out on the flight line yet. When you first become a mechanic, they want to teach you the mechanical piece of it first.”

The Airmen who serve out on the flight line, according to Cozza, were usually more experienced specialists who ran diagnostics and troubleshot the aircraft and were the ones who ordered the repairs. My goal was to learn the aircraft systems and work on the flight line. A year later I succeeded and became engine run and taxi certified on the C-130 cargo aircraft. To Cozza, her back-shop and flight line experience was instrumental to her later professional success.

“When I was in Turbo-Propulsion technical school one of the blocks they taught was all about tools,” said Cozza as her eyes lit up with a twinkle while she describes her love for tools such as safety wire plyers and torque wrenches. “But the guys were so bored in there. It’s a complete opposite to what you’d think.”

Cozza’s older brother would always tease her when she tried to help him fix his motorcycles during her childhood years. She said she was clumsy and had no clue about what was in the tool box when she was a kid, so she often got pushed away after her brother lost patience with her.

Women in the Air Force weren’t always afforded the opportunities they have today. When Cozza joined the Air Force, she was in only the second class of women allowed to work in the aircraft turbo propulsion maintenance field. It was a very different and challenging time.

“The men would want to carry my tool box for me,” said Cozza. “They weren’t used to having women around. In my mind, I’d say to myself that I can’t let them do that because I needed to prove myself. I wanted to be accepted and respected as a mechanic, not as a woman.”

Cozza’s goal as a young Airman was to do the same job as everyone else and do it right. After years of hard work, Cozza thinks one of her proudest moments came in a training exercise in Texas.

“We were in a chemical environment,” said Cozza, regarding an aircraft battle damage repair exercise when she was the only woman on the ABDR team as a combat maintenance crew member. “I was in full chemical gear, and we had these VIPs come to visit us during the exercise. They were looking at us from afar and when we got the all clear, I took my gas mask off. Suddenly, all of these people were pointing at me because it’s was a woman up there on the wing!”

The crowd was caught off guard and had no idea, according to Cozza, that there was a woman in the mix. Although she felt it was such a moment for her, she chose to simply wave back and dusted it off. It was no big deal and she went back to her aircraft repair.

Cozza became a member of 102nd Fighter Wing in the 1990s, where she continued to serve as a maintainer. She acquired multiple aircraft AFSCs; Jet Propulsion, Non-Destructive Inspection, Aircrew Egress Systems, and Aircraft Quality Assurance Inspector, and later in 2008, after BRAC, she became an Operations Intelligence Specialist and Superintendent in the 102nd ISRG. Her final assignment will be that of the Wing Command Chief Master Sergeant.

Cozza is scheduled to retire in June of 2018. She plans to spend her time traveling, gardening and golfing when she can. She said she recently picked up curling as a hobby as well.

“It has never been lost on me that there have been a lot of women before me who paved the way for me and other military women,” said Cozza. She thinks in today’s Air Force, a woman’s potential is limitless.

Chief Cozza’s parting advice to young female Airmen today is to set goals, work hard to achieve them, and never give up. She believes the “glass ceiling” belongs to the past and anything is possible for this generation.