Tuesday, March 15, 2011

RetroNews: All-female crew completes inflight refueling over Iraq

3/18/2008, US AIr Force website: All-female crew completes inflight refueling over Iraq
by Senior Airman Carolyn Viss
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

3/18/2008 - SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFPN) -- An all-female crew of three women deployed to Southwest Asia flew an in-flight refueling mission together in a KC-135 Stratotanker in honor of National Women's History Month March 18 over Iraq.

Maj. Leslie Picht, the aircraft commander; 1st Lt. Cindy Dawson, the co-pilot; and Senior Airman Killian Lange, the boom operator refueled an A-6 and two Navy F-18 Hornets supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

They are all deployed to the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron in Southwest Asia.

Maj. Adrian Byers, the 340th EARS director of operations, said he enjoys scheduling crew members to fly together in conjunction with heritage months because it reminds the unit -- and, hopefully, the world -- of the progress that's been made by the people who came before us.

"I have noticed a change in operations for women in theater," Major Picht said. "Five years ago, when I was a co-pilot deployed to Saudia Arabia, female pilots or boom operators sometimes could not get controllers to acknowledge them on the radios. I would intentionally lower my voice for radio calls to prevent any problems. All-female crews were intentionally avoided to prevent problems with support for diverting aircraft. These things have definitely changed in the last few years. It's nice to see our progress in racial and gender equality is not just a national progression, but we are now changing the norms internationally by our presence."

Perhaps proof of that change, the two more junior-ranking women said their experiences as female pilots haven't been difficult or fraught with gender-based obstacles to overcome. The military has come a long way since the 1950s when women were taught how to wear makeup in boot camp.

And the fact that they're female fliers isn't too surprising to most people today either.

"Most people, especially civilians, assume when you say 'Air Force' that you fly planes anyway, so it's not really shocking to them," Airman Lange said. This is her third deployment in the three years she's served. "I never thought I'd be in the military, but once I became interested in joining, I knew I wanted to do a flying job."

She said she doesn't really think of what she does as "something amazing" until she sees Air Force recruiting commercials and talks to her friends and family about her job. Then, "getting other people's input makes me realize how cool it is."

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