Making It All Work: Air Force maintainer retires after 42 years of service

  • Published
  • By SrA Rachel Underwood
  • 175th Wing

An electronic warfare systems specialist hoists herself onto a jammer alongside the flightline at Al Udeid Air Force Base in Doha, Qatar. As a Rockwell B-1 Lancer takes off, she feels the roar of the engines in her chest as she swells with a sense of pride. With the smell of jet fuel in her nose, she fondly considers her part in making that aircraft mission-ready.

Before her retirement ceremony, Maryland Air National Guard Senior Master Sgt. Jacqueline A. Talbert, the avionics superintendent of the 175th Maintenance Squadron, Maryland Air National Guard, reminisced about her career after 42 years of service.

“I would absolutely recommend a career in maintenance to a young lady interested in the military because it’s just so fulfilling,” said Talbert. “Actually getting your hands on the airplane is a wonderful feeling. That sense of making a plane whole is a great feeling.”

Utilizing the delayed enlistment program, Talbert joined the Air Force as an active duty member in May of 1981 when she was a senior attending high school in Carroll County, Maryland.

After graduating, Talbert attended Basic Military Training and then traveled to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi, for electronic warfare maintenance technical training, where she earned the Air Force Speciality Code that she would have for the next four decades.

Talbert worked on electronic countermeasure pods that use the electromagnetic spectrum to jam, deny, and deceive enemy radar systems to effectively protect aircraft and pilots from radar guided missiles.

Throughout her career, she and her team would tear the electronic warfare systems apart to conduct component-level repair and troubleshoot them using test equipment.

In the early 1980s, and throughout most of her career, there were not many women in the male-dominated field of electronics.

“There are not a lot of females out there in the maintenance world, especially when you get into the supervisory level,” Talbert said, “but I always felt like my opinions and ideas mattered and were always taken the best way.”

Her first duty station was Homestead Air Reserve Base in Miami-Dade County, Florida, where she met her husband of 40 years.

Because the McDonnell Douglas F-4D Phantom II models were being phased out, Talbert and her husband transferred to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, North Carolina, where, in 1985, their daughter was born.

Then, they made their way to Hill Air Force Base in Davis County, Utah, and in 1989, their family grew with the birth of their twin boys.

While still on active duty with the Air Force, Talbert was deployed to Saudi Arabia in 1990 to participate in Operation Desert Calm in the wake of the Persian Gulf War. When she returned, she received year-long orders to Korea.

After 11 and a half years of active duty service, Talbert made the decision to transition to the Air National Guard. While she enjoyed her time as an active duty member of the military, she wanted to be able to spend more time with her family.

She then traveled to Sioux City Air National Guard Base in Iowa, where she stayed until 2001.

When her husband retired from the Air Force after 22 years of service, they moved to Maryland where she accepted a full-time position as an electronic warfare pod technician at Martin State Air National Guard Base in Middle River, Maryland.

Coming home, she was unexpectedly reunited with a childhood friend.

Retired Chief Master Sgt. Jonathan Smithson, who was a component maintenance flight superintendent for the 175th Maintenance Squadron, and Talbert met in the fourth grade and graduated from high school together.

“I walked into the shop and there he was,” said Talbert. “He was my supervisor from 2001 all the way through him becoming a chief master sergeant. You find that a lot in the Guard; it’s a family here.”

Talbert laughed when she recalled how Smithson warned his fellow Airmen not to mess with her because she used to steal his lunch money.

During her tenure at the 175th Wing, Talbert contributed to the mission by serving three overseas deployments in support of U.S. Air Forces Central missions: Operations Enduring Freedom, Inherent Resolve, and Freedom’s Sentinel.

Because the electronic countermeasures pod repair shop for the whole area of operation is located at Al Udeid Air Base, electronic warfare systems specialists were only deployed to Qatar to ensure aircraft mission readiness across the theater of operations. Serving as the avionics superintendent for the deployments, she was responsible for the management of military, civilian personnel, overall productivity and performance of the Electronic Countermeasure Element.

Another highlight of her career: Talbert participated in a National Guard rewrite of the Avionics Test Station curriculum. Her expertise in the maintenance field generated excellent results directly impacting contingency operations, exercises, inspections, and overall unit readiness.

In 2021 after a 40-year career in maintenance, she retired from the technician position and became a drill-status Guardsman just serving on the weekends. After transferring to the 175th Logistics Readiness Squadron, she demonstrated her knowledge and expertise by spearheading the rewrite and complete modernization of the air transportation training program.

While in LRS, Talbert also provided critical guidance to 47 airmen transitioning to different career fields.

“All the people on this base are just amazing,” said Talbert. “They have been my second family for 22 years now. It’s going to be difficult to leave.”

When she wasn’t working on aircraft or the pods, Talbert was training and taking care of the Airmen around her, helping them grow within their military careers.

Maryland Air National Guard 2nd Lt. Brian Leschke, an operations officer assigned to the 175th Communications Flight, gave Talbert a special coin in 2022 after he was commissioned. He stated that she was someone who inspired him to go from enlisted to officer.

“Senior Master Sgt. Talbert was my shop chief in avionics from 2017 to 2021 and she was always humble and supportive of career advancement and personal growth,” said Leschke. “I’ve always looked up to her and still do as she is an excellent mentor and leader, which is why she was my first salute after commissioning. She is a true example of someone who embodies the whole Airman concept.”

After a successful career and walking away on her own terms, Talbert doesn’t feel like she is being put out to pasture; however she is moving on to farming. She’s ready to retire to her recently acquired 35 acres of farmland in Pennsylvania, where she will live alongside four generations of her family there.

Talbert said she will fondly look back on her time serving and is looking forward to the future.

“I’m definitely going out with a smile on my face.”