SOUTHWEST ASIA --
A squadron of Airmen huddle around a construction site. From a distance they all look identical, same sand t-shirts, same camouflaged pants, and same red hard hats.
Upon a closer look these members of the 557th Expeditionary RED HORSE couldn’t be more diverse. People of different ages, ethnicities and backgrounds are gathered together building the future living sustainment area for the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, the new generation to Tuskegee Airmen.
Tonight they’re pouring concrete.
As trucks line up with thousands of pounds of the wet building material, the Airmen are in full swing, the foundation for the next phase. Some people rake and level, while others edge and ensure the surface is smooth, it’s an extensive process.
It’s at this moment when Senior Airman Brooke Seler, a structural journeyman, stands out. At 5 feet 3 inches she isn’t your typical construction worker, but she holds her own, taking on the messy job pouring concrete.
While it may not appeal to everyone, trouncing around in wet concrete in the middle of the night is where Seler wants to be.
“I love it,” she said. “I love the fact we can do a job and at the end of the day I can see the difference.”
At a young age the Pennsylvania native started working with her mother remodeling houses.
“Ever since I was little, anywhere I lived, it was always a project,” Seler said. “My mom first taught me how to use a roller when I was five and from then on I was painting rooms. As I got older, she allowed me to do more projects. Then I gradually fell in love with it.”
“Before I came into this job, everything I base my knowledge off of was all from my mother. She taught me everything, she’s my hero.”
After graduating high school, Seler discovered her passion for working with animals while employed at a veterinary clinic. This proved to be a dilemma. She didn’t know how to purse her love for building and animals, while fulfilling her need to serve.
“My dad was a crew chief for 24 years and I admire everything the military stands for,” she said. “I wanted to join the Air Force, but I didn’t know how to make it fit with everything else. Then I learned about the Air Force Reserve. I talked to a recruiter who told me civil engineer would be a good job for me because I’d been flipping houses my entire life with my mom.
“I figured why not join the military, get my foot in the door, and see what it’s like,” she continued. “I get to learn more about something I really love and enjoy doing; at the same time I could start school to be a veterinarian.”
In December of 2015, Seler left for basic training, followed by technical school and then seasonal training at her home station Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina. Along the way she has made life-long friends and learned invaluable lessons.
“I’ve almost been on active duty orders my entire career with the Reserve,” she said. “I love the people and I love what I do. I think that makes everything a lot easier.”
Now Seler finds herself overseas, where she continues to do what she loves. As a member of the 557th ERHS she helps build structures from start to finish.
“On seasonal training we did more patch-up work,” Seler said. “We fix things that were messed up in a storm or by someone, more of the things I’m used to doing. Here everything is brand new and that’s what RED HORSE is, building a base from the ground up. That’s literally what we’re doing and I think that’s the most exciting part of it.”
Whether it’s pouring concrete, putting up side panels or working steel, Seler doesn’t let her gender limit her capability.
“This is definitely a male dominated job,” she said. “There are times I really have to bust my butt to keep up with the guys. I don’t like to fall short and I don’t like for the guys to feel they have to keep up after me.”
“I always make sure, if they’re swinging a sledge hammer and hitting stakes, I’m right next to them swinging a hammer and hitting stakes,” she explained.
It’s this outlook that makes Seler an Airman people want to work with.
“She’s got a great attitude,” said Staff Sgt. Andrew McDonald, 557th ERHS structural craftsman. “She wants to learn, she wants to work. I can just lay out the task of the day and she’s willing to knock it out.”
“She definitely knows the job,” Said Senior Airman Alexandria Mattei, 557th ERHS structural journeyman. “It’s really easy to work with her. She’s good at walking you through the steps, especially with someone like me who doesn’t have the same experience. She’s always good with solving any issue we may run into.”
Seler is just one example of the many individuals in the 557th ERHS who bring something to the mission. Every building the diverse squadron constructs in a testament to what the Air Force stands for and what it will become.
“I’m not going to push the fact I’m a female and there are things I can’t do, but if there’s a will, there’s a way, and I’ll find a way. Some of my methods will have to be different than how the guys do it, but I make sure I get it done.”