Skerry Is Not Your Ordinary Administrative Assistant

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el-vaquero-staff-writer/" class="creditline">Helen Galvin
El Vaquero Staff Writer

Since Sept. 11, Patricia Skerry, administrative assistant to President John Davitt, has been on call 24/7 as a senior master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. She has all of her personal affairs in order, her bags packed, and she?s ready for duty.

Skerry joined the U.S. Air Force in active duty in 1968, during the Vietnam War when few women were part of the armed services. In college at the time, but unsure of where she wanted to go career wise, she was enticed by the armed services ad: ?Be all you want to be??
As an airman in the U.S. Air Force, Skerry trained in aircraft control and warning, moving up to the rank of sergeant in her four-year tour of active duty.

When her tour was up in 1972, Skerry went to school and became a registered animal health technician. She worked in a veterinarian office while finishing an associate in science degree in business.

For the next 10 years she never gave the armed service another thought until she saw a card in TV Guide for reservists. ?I filled out the form, thinking being in the Reserve was not too much of a commitment.?

Reservist, Skerry must spend one weekend per month training at March Air Force Reserve Base in Moreno Valley and then another two weeks of intensive training anywhere in the world. Since joining the U.S. Air Force Reserve 22 years ago, her duties have taken her to Japan, Korea and the Philippines.

Skerry, who has worked in the college president?s office since 1992, is the only reservist employed on campus. A tall, stately woman, Skerry, 52, is required even today to work a forklift, loading and securing cargo onto aircraft. In a business suit, Skerry looks like she is ready to take over a company; in fatigues, cap and her sleeves rolled up, Skerry is just another serviceperson.
?Civilians look at a woman in uniform and say ?Wow, you do that [transportation job],? Skerry said, ?while our military counterparts don?t think anything of us.?

There are 1,460,830 service personnel in the Armed Services; about 200,000 are women, according to the Armed Forces Journal. Women not only have desk jobs, but works in mechanics, transportation, supplies, radar, and pilot planes. The only question still under consideration is should women be in combat.

Currently holding the rank of senior master sergeant in the 56th Aerial Port Squadron, Skerry is part of senior management over 250 personnel in her transportation unit. But her rank does not keep Skerry from having to do a little dirty work.
In fatigues, combat boots, and helmet, carrying a kit and gun, Skerry goes through maneuvers, crawling under barbed wire and running miles on her weekends and yearly duties. A year ago, Skerry and other reservists went through readiness exercises for a war situation. While she hated every moment of the war game, it prepared her for what might lie ahead.

When President Bush declared war on terrorism, Skerry received a phone call from her unit orderly room that she was on call.

?We have been told we are on 24-hour standby for a minimum of two years,? she said.
While some people may think the U.S. may not be prepared militarily, the reality is that the military is in perpetual training – including training in combating terrorism.

But no one expected the events of Sept. 11 to happen.

If called, Skerry will go. ?That is understood when you raise your right hand and take the oath.?
In the meantime, Skerry goes about her daily routine, knowing she might be sent away at any time.
If you met her on the street, you would never know the strength behind the graceful, attractive woman, but she is one of the committed Americans who is there to take the phone call in the middle of the night so that we can all sleep better.