MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- Her parents gave her a set of model military airplanes when she was younger and she had a grandpa, uncles and cousins in the service. As a little girl, she always knew she wanted to be in the military.
As she prepared to go to Misawa Air Base as a then-2nd Lieutenant, Jessica Dacpano came across one plane from her collection. It served as a reminder that she was destined to be a part of something greater than she could have ever fathomed.
That model plane now zooms overhead nearly every single day in the form of the U.S. Air Force’s compact, multi-role fighter aircraft, the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
“I knew I wanted to serve in the U.S. Air Force to carry on with my family tradition,” said Capt. Dacpano, the 13th Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge.
While on tour in Italy with her college choir, Dacpano first experienced the maintenance world through shadowing an Air Force maintenance officer. Little did she know, she would assume the same role in the near future.
“I was lucky enough to shadow him and observe what a maintenance officer does in a day,” she expressed. “Although the day was long, I knew, at that moment, maintenance was a choice I wanted to put on my wish list.”
Regardless of the long hours, Dacpano remained motivated to be a maintenance officer.
“Being a maintenance officer is challenging,” she voiced. “I remember less than a year before coming to Misawa, it was a busy summer of temporary duties with aircraft all over the world.”
This busy work tempo did not stop the new officer from taking on flight commander and chief duties as well. Although Dacpano is not a maintainer by trade, she has the responsibility of mentoring and leading between 30 to 400 personnel on any given day.
“One of the distinguishing challenges we face is that we are not subject matter experts, but we lead maintainers who are,” she stated. “Our job is based upon leading people and processes, no matter what airframe we are assigned to. With that being said, our job is very dynamic since we can cross over to different airframes and coordinate with different Air Force specialty codes such as operations and logistics.”
As Dacpano progressed as a maintenance officer, two pieces of advice helped the most: take care of yourself and be mindful of discomfort.
“On days I can’t seem to find a moment to pause and relax, I find solitude in knowing life isn’t perfect but that I can endure it,” said Dacpano. “Usually when stressed, we indulge ourselves in food or try to drown our thoughts with music. I challenge myself to solve arising problems internally before I turn to external quick fixes.”
This mindset helped her through countless temporary duty assignments. Airmen in this career field meet unique challenges on a daily basis, and it is up to them and their leadership to find innovative solutions.
"Working with Capt. Dacpano always boosts my mood," said Senior Airman James Dionne, a 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron engines journeyman. "She always checks up on her Airmen, and I can really see how genuine her care for us is while talking with us. Hearing her positivity and dedication lets us know we are in good hands."
That positivity stems from the knowledge that her team will always carry the mission through to completion.
“The people in maintenance exhibit service before self every day,” she described. “Before a TDY, maintainers busily prep for the arrival of our F-16s and when the aircraft leave the location, we stay behind to pack before going home. The comradery I share with the crew assists in our success. That strong bond carries us through those early mornings and late nights.”
She also highlights how being around maintainers is always humbling.
“I trust them to provide safe, reliable aircraft every day and every time we successfully launch aircraft, it is a reminder that a maintainer put it there,” she said. “When other people leave work to go home for the day or are sleeping through a snowy night, maintainers are still there fixing aircraft.”