History was made this month as Cmdr. Kelly Varonfakis became the first-ever female Full Time Support (FTS) Aerospace Maintenance Duty Officer (AMDO) selected for the rank of Captain.
The Navy selected Varonfakis for the O-6 grade breaking a barrier in place since the FTS AMDO community was established 31 years ago. Assigned to Commander Fleet Readiness Centers (COMFRC) Headquarters, she is the Vertical Lift Production Lead and oversees aircraft and engine production for all Navy and Marine Corps rotary aircraft.
“I am honored to be among a phenomenal group of women leaders who are true trailblazers — women like Cmdr. Deb Vavrus, who started as an Aviation Structural Mechanic and served for 35 years until her retirement. I am grateful for her faith-forward leadership and mentorship and the path she forged,” Varonfakis said.
Commander Fleet Readiness Centers’ Rear Adm. Joseph Hornbuckle lauded this historic moment and noted there is still work to be done. “Capt. (sel) Varonfakis is a testament to the kind of resilience and fortitude needed to be successful. It is an honor to celebrate her ingenuity and expertise. This historic selection is something to be celebrated and built upon.”
In addition to Varonfakis’ selection, the AMDO FTS community also selected Cmdr. Des Price-Jordan, deputy program manager for Naval Air Systems Command’s (NAVAIR) Tactical Airlift Program Office, for the rank of Captain. She will become the first woman Commanding Officer at NAVAIR and potentially the first Fleet Readiness Center Commanding Officer for COMFRC next year. “The ceiling wasn’t merely broken in this board, it was blown to pieces, and I am thrilled to share this moment with Price-Jordan,” Varonfakis said.
Price-Jordan is breaking multiple barriers becoming the first African-American woman to reach the highest level of responsibility and authority in this community. “I am extremely humbled and blessed to play a role in this moment in history. Sharing this moment with Varonfakis is surreal,” she said.
As the Navy’s senior-ranking AMDO officer, COMFRC Vice Commander, Christopher Couch reflected on what this significant milestone means to the community. “Cmdr. Varonfakis’ selection to Captain is just beginning to tap the potential to bring further diversity to the aviation maintenance community,” he said.
As Vertical Lift Production Lead, Varonfakis leads two integrated Product Teams (IPT) which include aircraft and engine production of the Navy and Marine Corps rotary variants.
In addition to managing COMFRC’s production effort, Varonfakis works with nine Fleet Readiness Center (FRC) sites and their stakeholders to eliminate barriers and lean forward to address and mitigate future constraints. She has also represented depot interests on a Secretary of the Navy directed joint task force; Deputy, Assistant Secretary of the Navy working groups; and has provided data and analysis used for House Armed Senate Committee briefings.
“The depots are incredible at what they do, and it is an honor to represent them. Their desire to support our Sailors and Marines often requires them to work under less than optimal conditions including poor material condition of aircraft as they come in, shortages of parts and unpredictable schedules. These obstacles and other compounding factors can lead to unavoidable delays,” Varonfakis said.
The V-22, H-53 and H-60 type/model/series aircraft are currently in various stages of Naval Sustainment System for Aviation (NSS-A) implementation. The goal of NSS-A is to transform both readiness and sustainment of all aircraft. FRCs have experienced substantial improvements in workspace layouts, turnaround times for maintenance, unfilled customer orders and deliberate planning for future activities.
“Her work on the H-60 team has been instrumental in fully integrating the Naval Sustainment System for this type/model/series,” said Hornbuckle.
“To see how each production line is empowered to take control, and demand and receive the support they need is rewarding to witness as this effort unfolds,” said Varonfakis.
Being a trailblazer in the AMDO community is especially meaningful for Varonfakis given her early commitment to the Navy. “I was in the second grade when I first declared I wanted to join the Navy. I didn’t grow up far from Naval Air Station Miramar, and could see the jets flying overhead. I loved it. I don’t recall anyone encouraging me, but instead was told time and again, “No sweetie, girls don’t do that.” I am both thrilled at the progress we have made as a country and Navy, but am appalled there are still so many barriers and ceilings left to break,” she said.
Having joined the Navy in 1986, Price-Jordan said it wasn’t always easy being the only woman in the wardroom. “I look forward to the day when we no longer have to say ‘she is the first,’ but it becomes the norm to see women seated in senior leadership positions. We may be the first, but we will not be the last,” she said.
Both Varonfakis and Price-Jordan are leading the charge for women across the Navy and the nation.