By Air Force Master Sgt. Matt Hecht, New Jersey National Guard
JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J., March 29, 2018 — New Jersey Army National Guard Chief Warrant Officer 3 Kristina Sofchak, a Black Hawk helicopter maintenance test pilot with Detachment 2, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 171st Aviation Regiment here, recalled that she loved to talk to her mother about career paths.
“I would say, ‘I want to be a waitress,’ and my mom would say, ‘Why not own the restaurant?’ I would say, ‘I want to be a nurse,’ and my mom would say, ‘Why not be a doctor?’” Sofchak said. “She was constantly challenging me to think about the things I could accomplish as a woman.”
Sofchak noted that her mother even named her in a way that could aid her with job applications.
“My mom purposefully named my sister and I with gender-neutral names, so I could put Kris on a resume, and my sister could put Casey,” Sofchak said. “She wanted us to be judged on our merits, not because we’re women.”
Sofchak was inspired in the 1980s by women such as Lynn Rippelmeyer, who became the first woman to fly the Boeing 747 and in 1984 became the first woman to serve as an airline captain.
“I heard about women making history in aviation while I was in school, and I told my guidance counselor that I wanted to be a pilot,” she said. “He said that girls couldn’t be pilots.”
A chance encounter put her on a path to a career in aviation.
“My mother took us to Great Adventure [theme park], and there was an AH-1 Cobra [helicopter] static display there. I knew I wanted to work with Cobras,” Sofchak said.
She went to her high school guidance counselor and told him she was going to join the Army National Guard.
Helicopter Mechanic Duty
Sofchak enlisted in the New Jersey Army National Guard as a helicopter mechanic, and soon was running maintenance teams on the hangar floor.
“I was working on a helicopter one day, when a supervisor of mine, a male, told me I hit the glass ceiling. I was confused about what he meant,” she said. “He said that I was going to climb as high as I could go on that ladder; that I could see the rest of the path, but I could never get there. I was angry.”
After twelve years as an enlisted maintenance soldier, Sofchak’s dream of flying was realized when she became a helicopter pilot.
As a young pilot, she found herself going from the lush Pine Barrens of New Jersey to the dangerous skies over Iraq.
Flying Missions Over Iraq
“I was scared at first, but the more missions we did, the better it got,” Sofchak said. “We were doing the air assault mission, taking soldiers right to compounds to pick up high-value targets.”
She is the New Jersey Army National Guard’s first female maintenance test pilot.
“I love what I do and I just want little girls out there to know that this is something they can do, too,” Sofchak said.
And what about that supervisor that told her she hit the glass ceiling?
“I saw my old supervisor after I came back from flight training, and he was really happy for me. He said I didn’t hit the glass ceiling, I busted right through it!”