A Road Less Traveled
“It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure,” they said. “Let the journey begin,” they said. Travel the world; learn a skill, they said. In the Navy, Melody Pyles did all that and then some. But it took over a decade of battling egos before she would find herself on top of the hill in Makakilo, in an apartment with a view of beautiful Oahu, feeling as if she’s reach the pinnacle of Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs. She worked hard to get there; and approximately 30 years later, I would meet Melody in magical Okinawa, once again doing what she loves around the people she relates with the most.
When Melody joined the Navy, she was first assigned to a helicopter squadron at Naval Air Station Norfolk in 1976, where she learned how to be an Aviation Machinist Mate. She loved working on planes and remembers getting to start the engines of the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk while stationed at Naval Air Station Miramar in 1983 where the famed TOPGUN program was located. But as a female aircraft mechanic, she was initially treated as a “tool fetcher” until she finally had to put her foot down and demanded to be heard. Still, throughout the years, Melody would experience a lot of push back from the male mechanics and maintenance control who would circumvent her when she offered ideas upon troubleshooting issues. It wasn’t until she made Chief Petty Officer in 1991 that it ceased to be an issue.
Throughout her military service, Melody would find herself in some of the most sought after duty stations in the world: from short stints in Misawa, Japan; to extended ones in Barbers Point on Oahu, Hawaii; Guam–even Sigonella, Italy. Her best memories were of former Naval Air Station Barbers Point in 1987 where she held a lot of responsibilities in quality assurance and the aviation maintenance chiefs relied on her. Already a decade into her career, she felt she had finally come into “self-fulfillment, both professionally and personally.” Earning her Enlisted Air Warfare Specialist wings would also be a proud accomplishment. Later, Melody would serve as an instructor at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, California. Before she retired in 1997, she served as the maintenance chief for the Admiral’s aircraft in Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy.
When I met Melody in Okinawa in 2018, we were both there to serve men and women we’ve grown to consider family–brothers and sisters in arms. Almost two years later during a global pandemic, she tells me she feels like she took the road less traveled as far as her military career, but the fact that she did what she did made a world of difference in opportunities later on in life. Her transition to civilian life was difficult. The military was all she knew and getting out felt like a lifetime of difference. Nevertheless, the military taught her how to be self-reliant and independent and that she could pretty much do anything. She learned how to get things done, independently and with people. She learned that it takes different leadership styles to work with different types of people. She learned to adapt.
As we slowly transition to a new normal during this season of COVID-19, I challenge everyone to look back to a time when to change felt impossible. However big or small the pains, the losses, between the suffocating spaces and deafening amount of information, we all have incredible potential for resiliency. We will ride through this tide, this wave, this ebb and flow of life. Take a deep breath. I’ll see you on the topside.