Veterans Day Profile | Margot Mahannah

November 11, 2020

We sat down with Margot Mahannah, Senior Behaviorist, and veteran. United States Air Force veteran. Margot achieved the rank of Senior Airman during her 5 years in the United States Air Force.

What branch of service were you in and how long did you serve?
I enlisted in the United States Air Force and served for 5 years.

What prompted you to serve?
I was 20 when I enlisted. It was a time in my life when my world was upside-down. I was having a hard time paying bills and getting a handle on my finances while also in school. Ultimately, I needed a way to pay for college. The thought of a way to afford school (the GI Bill) in addition to an instant ‘family’ really appealed to me, and at the time I didn’t feel like I had a lot of options.

What was your primary responsibility while serving?
I was an ‘Ammo troop’ – Ammo troops are responsible for maintaining the entire munitions stockpile of the United States Air Force. Within this division, there are a lot of sub-shops within the Ammo world. I specifically worked in conventional maintenance, where the chaff/flare, cannon ammo, and guided/unguided bombs are built; the training office to ensure that all airmen in the squadron were up to date with their requirements; and then what’s called CAS-B (Combat Ammunition System – Base level) which was maintaining the computer system that monitored and tracked where all the munitions assets were base-side.

Where were you stationed and what parts of the world did you serve?
After basic training and tech school in Texas, I was stationed at Eielson Air Force Base, Fairbanks, Alaska for 3 years. Then, I came to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Goldsboro, NC for my remaining two years. Across my 5 years in the Air Force, I spent about a year total deployed at Ahmed Al Jaber Air Base, Kuwait as a combat Airman (both before and after 9/11) in the conventional maintenance shop. I participated in Operation Desert Fox, Operation Anaconda, and Operation Enduring Freedom.

What was your experience like?
Was it the same or different than what you imagined?

I didn’t really know many people in the military so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m a self-proclaimed tree-hugger from Berkeley, CA so the military was hugely foreign to me. The thing I hoped for was to gain a family—and I definitely did that. My military brothers and sisters mean a lot to me—and I know that we will always have each others backs—even though it’s been 18 years since I left the Air Force. I had a lot to prove, being the only woman in my first shop, but I did gain a lot of brothers and I think back on my time fondly.

What are some experiences that stick out to you?
My time in Kuwait was by far the most impactful. Being in the desert, with a group of people that you would give your life for—it was very surreal to stand there, in a desert you couldn’t walk in because of potential landmines, watching the oil fires, knowing that you were building bombs that were not coming back. It was difficult. The experience of being in danger like that and doing a huge bomb build, going to the chow hall for a break, and then seeing your bombs go off on CNN was life-changing and surreal. I did a lot of soul searching on those deployments.

What are your thoughts on Veterans Day?
There are so many people from all walks of life in the military. I was fortunate to have decent, fair bosses who saw me as an asset rather than a liability. I feel honored to have served with the people I did, and I just hope that no matter where people stand politically, respect for Veterans can be something we all agree on. In a time where this country is so divided, I think about how I served with so many others who had vastly different opinions than I did, but that didn’t matter—we got the job done. We had respect for each other as human beings. I wish that could translate to our current landscape where there is so much dissonance and blatant disregard for various groups of people and the protection of their rights.

How can we honor you and others that served?
There are so many Veterans who have slipped through the cracks and are facing serious mental health issues. Supporting Veterans shouldn’t be a sound bite, it should be a given considering how much they have given to this country. I love the organization Veterans Crisis Line (#bethere) which connects Veterans and Servicemembers with free resources and 24-hour suicide prevention coordinators. Or just reach out to a Veteran you know and see if they need anything (especially in these pandemic times).

How do you feel your service impacts you now?
Being in the Air Force made a stronger person. It enabled me to finish college and graduate school, which set me on my current path. Having been so involved directly in something so destructive as munitions really reiterated to me that I wanted to do the opposite—spend my life working to help improve outcomes for others. While the military didn’t end up being my career choice, I know that the discipline, teamwork, and work ethic that I cultivated there makes me a better public health professional today. And more than that, it made me a better human being.

Is there anything else that you want to talk about based on your service or recognition of veterans?
People always ask me what I would say to someone who was thinking about joining the service. And I always say that “It was the best decision I ever made…but I would never do it again”. It’s an experience that I am grateful for, and proud of, but it was hard, and at times, heartbreaking. It tested me to the core, and I had some very difficult times during my military stint. But I have a lot of respect for my friends who spent a lifetime in service, and I know it’s a great career path for some people.