Warfield Air National Guard Base at Martin State Airport, Md. --
The ejection system on the A-10C Thunderbolt II aircraft are maintained and have explosives installed that are built to catapult the pilot away in the event of an in-flight emergency. The system is designed to get the pilot back to the ground safely.
For U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Natalia Cuevas Mercado, an egress systems technician assigned to the 175th Maintenance Squadron, joining the Maryland Air National Guard was like landing back on terra firma after a lot of uncertainty in her life.
Cuevas Mercado, is originally from Puerto Rico, moved to Edgewood, Maryland, at the end of elementary school as her dad looked to secure a better economic future for their family. In 2015, she enlisted in the United States Marine Corps as a public affairs specialist and was stationed at Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command and Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California.
She documented on-base training as well as used her camera skills to help Marines advance their careers.
“I also did a lot of studio photography for promotion packages and I was good at it,” said Cuevas Mercado. “I always wanted to ensure that I did everything I could to help ensure that promotion packages were submitted on time.”
After four years, Cuevas Mercado left the Marine Corp in June 2019. She was working “odd jobs,” which only got tougher during the pandemic. Then her landlord, who was serving in the Maryland Air National Guard, asked her if she ever thought about joining the military again.
“I was in a place where I needed a job and money, so I decided to join,” said Cuevas Mercado.
In May of 2020, she joined the Maryland Air National Guard and went to technical school in Texas.
After returning back to Warfield Air National Base, Cuevas Mercado began her on-the-job training with the team responsible for maintaining and inspecting the Advanced Concept Ejection Seat II in the A-10C Thunderbolt II aircraft and she really enjoyed it.
“I liked working on the [ejection] seat and I liked the atmosphere, so I asked for more days,” said Cuevas Mercado. “I like the people I work with and I like talking with them at work and outside of work. They make it a great environment to be in.”
According to her trainer, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Alredo Lepe, a 7-level egress systems technician, Cuevas Mercado has shown a desire to be successful in the career field.
“Senior Airman Cuevas Mercado is a breath of fresh air for our shop and we want to keep her here for as long as we can because she is great at this job,” explained Lepe. “Because she is so early in her career, I am trying to guide her in a direction that will lead her to success.”
According to Cuevas Mercado, who is taking college classes and working on her Community College of the Air Force degree, the mission of an egress systems technician is ensuring that the A-10 pilots are “100 percent confident” in all aspects of the egress system of their aircraft.
“Other sections in the maintenance group fix the jet to make sure that the jet can go and do what it is capable of doing,” said Cuevas Mercado. “Our job is that last line of escape for the pilot. If the jet goes down and the pilot needs to punch out, he or she needs to trust that we did our job to the best of our ability so that they can safely return to land.”
Installing the 12 explosives located within the seat's structure are handled with extreme care by the egress Airmen. Because of the risk and the critical roles she plays, Cuevas Mercado takes her job seriously and strives to be the subject matter expert that others seek out.
“I want to make a career out of this and I hope to be able to do that with the Maryland Air National Guard,” said Cuevas Mercado. “I want to be so confident and knowledgeable in this career field that new Airmen will come to me.”
Cuevas Mercado’s Hispanic heritage has helped keep her grounded. She believes diversity is important to building strong teams.
“I think it is crucial to work on a team with people who come from different backgrounds and life experience,” said Mercado. “The team I work with everyday takes input from everyone and values the opinions and thoughts of everyone on the team. That is how we get to the best solution to a problem and ensure every pilot that flies those airplanes has what they need to get home safely.”