When Meggen Ditmore enlisted in the U.S. Air Force during her junior year of high school, she already knew what she wanted to do as a career.

“My desire was to have the Air Force train me as a nurse,” said Ditmore, who currently works as a registered nurse in the Family Birthing Center at St. Charles Madras. “But when I took my aptitude test in high school, they said, ‘No, your highest scores are in mechanics. So they tried to pigeonhole me into a mechanical field.”

Ditmore’s uncle, who was in charge of job assignment for new recruits at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, told her it’d be hard to get out of mechanics unless she was willing to delay her enlistment, retake the test and hope for higher health care scores.

Ditmore didn’t want to do that, so instead she did what came naturally: She tackled the challenge in front of her and made the best of the situation.

“I was like, ‘Alright, I won’t do this as a career. I’ll just do it long enough to get my G.I. Bill so I can go through nursing school,” she said. “I said to myself, ‘If I’m going to do this, I have to do the most fun job I possibly can. I have to break some barriers.’ So I decided to become a jet mechanic.”

After graduating high school in Canton, S.D. in 1997, Ditmore became the first active-duty female to enlist in the Air Force as an A-10 jet mechanic. From 1997 to 2000, she was stationed at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska and served in Operation Desert Fox, defending the Southern and Northern no-fly zones in Kuwait following the Gulf War.

“I grew up with a single mom who worked three jobs and always told my sister and me, ‘shoot for the stars’ and ‘nothing’s impossible’ and ‘there are no barriers you can’t break,’” Ditmore said. “So I just went full force into my service with the attitude that I was going to do this and I was going to be successful.”

After leaving the military, Ditmore entered health care, first as a CNA in Madras. She then got her LPN license and worked full-time night shift while going to school to become an RN. Over the past 20 years at St. Charles, she has worked in Medical-Surgical, the Emergency Department and the FBC, among other units.

“I’ve been all over,” she said. “In the military, I didn’t want to do something that was too narrow and repetitive. I wanted something more broad – that’s the nursing mind in me. I have to be doing something that involves doing a bunch of different things. That’s when I’m at my best.”

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