JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska --
Women of the 90th Aircraft Maintenance Unit are leading the way in innovation and inclusion with their new lactation pod, allowing Airmen who are nursing mothers to continue contributing to the mission at work and at home.
The 90th AMU is part of the 3rd Wing at JBER, Alaska. The wing provides 24/7 air dominance, global mobility, and command and control for combatant commanders of the Pacific region. Every Airman within the wing plays a vital role in fulfilling that mission and contributes to the mission of the Air Force as a whole -- even mothers.
“The idea for the pod originally came from myself, Staff Sgt. John Mykel, Master Sgt. Steven Banda, [and Master Sgt. Nicholas Rapoza],” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Victoria Hall, formerly the noncommissioned officer in charge of Programs with the 90th AMU. “We were planning a project for a women’s locker room and lactation room. We knew that these projects take a while, and we wanted to be able to give the women of the AMU an immediate solution for a lactation room which is how the Mamava Pod came up.”
The 90th AMU is the first maintenance unit at JBER with a lactation pod, however, these pods are becoming more popular within the military as more women choose to serve, and choose to become mothers.
“[In] maintenance, it’s mostly men; there are maybe eight women in the unit -- that’s not including the [operations] side, but that’s not a lot in a unit of around 230 people,” said Staff Sgt. Megan Medina, the new Programs NCOIC. “We love what we do, but if you don’t pump [breast milk], you lose your supply, and you’re in pain.”
Having the lactation pod has allowed nursing moms to put distractions to rest and focus on the mission at hand.
“Getting this pod has impacted the squadron and mission by allowing a dedicated space for the women,” said Hall, now a dedicated crew chief assigned to the 757th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. “Before, women had to use conference rooms if they weren’t in use, or offices. If they used offices, that meant other service members would have to leave, which put a stop to the mission.”
Counterintuitively, it's also been directly beneficial for the male Airmen within the unit.
“For men, I think it makes it a little more comfortable because before, we would have the office closed off and no one wanted to interrupt or disrespect anyone’s space,” said Medina. “So it makes it a little easier on them because they’re not worried about being awkward, rushing anyone, or feeling like they're imposing on our area. And on the women’s side, it’s morale. It makes us feel more included and it puts mothers at ease because you’re already nervous coming back to work, but having a place to go and decompress while you pump is just more stress off of being a new mom,” Medina said. “It just makes it easier.”
Over the last few years, the Air Force has committed to creating a more diverse, inclusive, and innovative environment by encouraging innovation within the ranks and establishing programs and departments such as the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
“In the facilities that I have worked at, I have never seen a dedicated space for nursing mothers,” said Hall. “I have also heard many women use this as an excuse not to nurse due to not wanting to nurse in a locker room or bathroom, or they didn’t even know it was an option they had since they were in the military.”
Hall added it was important to her because she was also one of those mothers who had to ask people to leave every few hours for her to pump.
“I felt bad, but didn’t really have many options and knew I wasn’t the only one who would need the pod,” Hall said.
Getting the pod wasn’t difficult, but did take some work, Hall said. She researched three vendors with products which met the need and provided the three price quotes and the reasoning behind the purchase to the unit’s purchasing authority and the commander. Once a product was approved, the purchasing process began.
Having the pod has not only benefited the mission and the people, it’s influencing the future of the Air Force -- normalizing women and mothers in the service, and making a mark on the next generation.
“Choosing to be a mom is never easy,” said Medina. “I want my son to see that I can have a job, and be a mom.”
**The United States Air Force does not endorse any product mentioned or depicted in this article and/or accompanying photos.**