Friday, March 23, 2012

Short Hills woman featured in book Military Fly Moms

I have a copy of this book myself and will be reviewing it shortly.

In addition, author Linda Maloney is offering a $10 discount to anyone who buys the book from her website, who mentions that they read about it either on this blog or on my website, Winged Victory!

From Short Hills woman featured in book Military Fly Moms
For the past seven years, Linda Maloney, a retired naval aviator, and seventy other women collaborated on a special project—telling their individual stories as female military aviators and mothers.

The culmination of this extensive process, a coffee-table book called Military Fly Moms. One of these women, former Navy pilot Cynthia (Persinger) Lisa, says she fell in love with the Naval Academy and Annapolis the minute she walked onto the academy yard during her junior year of high school, believing that the academy’s emphasis on leadership, academics, and athletics was the perfect fit for her.

The possibility of flying in the military always interested her, but really was just the icing on the cake. While at the academy, Lisa met her future husband, Mike, also a midshipman, and they married after graduation. Both were both selected for flight training and to fly the EA-6B Prowler, the Navy’s four-seat electronic countermeasures jet. Stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington, but assigned to different squadrons, Lisa and her husband were frequently apart during their three-year operational tours, but she loved her time as a Prowler pilot. She gained combat experience supporting ground troops in Iraq during her squadron’s six month deployment in 2005 on the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz.

On March 3, 2006, her life changed forever as she led a flight of two Prowlers on a low altitude military-training route, flying at an altitude of 500 feet and speed of 420 knots. Halfway through the route, she heard a strange whining sound inside her jet. Within seconds, both the front and rear cockpits filled with smoke. The jet was on fire and uncontrollable. Approximately twenty seconds after the initial noise, Lisa ejected her crew out of the aircraft, watching as the jet crashed into the side of a hill. She and her crew survived with minor injuries. Soon after the ejection, Lisa and her husband transferred to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, for their next tours.

While her husband attended the Navy’s Test Pilot School, she took a non-flying job so they could start their family. They welcomed their first child in 2008 and now have three children—two girls and, most recently, a baby boy. Lisa left the Navy in 2010 and, while she misses flying and longs to be airborne, she is enjoying the simple pleasures of being a mom! Lisa and her family recently moved to Japan, where her husband is stationed.

Although the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) served during World War II, the first female aviators to support the U.S. military, their organization was disbanded when the men started coming home. As with most young people serving during the war years, these amazing young pilots, although many would have preferred to keep on flying, went home, got married, raised families, and generally put their war years behind them. In 1977, after a long legislative campaign, they were recognized by Congress as American military veterans. These 1,074 WASP had flown every single aircraft in the U.S. military inventory, ferried aircraft from coast to coast, and trailed banners behind their planes for artillery trainees to shoot at. Thirty-eight of them died in training flights or while on missions. In 2010, Congress awarded each of the WASP its highest honor, the Congressional Gold Medal.

For nearly thirty years after WWII, even though women had been slowly gaining permanent status in the military since the Army Nurse Corps had been established in 1901, no women flew again in any kind of military capacity. In 1972, the services could no longer defend the notion that they had no use for female pilots, especially considering the numerous noncombat roles and missions that existed. The first Navy women to pin on the gold wings of an aviator did so in 1973, and the first female Army aviator graduated with her wings in 1974. The Air Force followed suit with ten female pilots earning aviator wings in 1977. From that first group of female Navy pilots,
Jane Skiles O’Dea became the first female naval aviator to have a baby while on active duty. One of the women in Military Fly Moms, O’Dea also wrote the foreword, where she says, “My daughters grew up with a mom who wore a flight suit to work every day and they thought that was perfectly normal.”

Although this second generation of women military aviators received pay and allowances, benefits and promotions, and could remain a service member after having children, unlike the WASP, the opportunity or obligation, depending upon one’s point of view, to fly Navy or Air Force combat aircraft on combat missions over combat territory was restricted by the National Security Act of 1947. Despite the ban on combat, women were performing an inherently dangerous mission. Barbara Rainey, the Navy’s first female pilot, and the student she was instructing were killed in 1982 while practicing takeoffs and landings. Military Fly Moms is dedicated to this young aviator mom who left behind two young daughters. During Operation Desert Storm, Major Marie
T. Rossi-Cayton, the first woman pilot in U.S. history to fly in combat, died when her helicopter crashed in Saudi Arabia in 1991.

Various organizations, such as the WASP and Women Military Aviators, finally wrenched from Congress in 1993 the repeal of the combat exclusion law and this led to the third generation of women military aviators. From this point forward, they could and would fly the same aircraft as their male counterparts, except those involved in special operations. Both the Navy and the Air Force graduated their first female fighter pilots in 1994, and the Marine Corps awarded wings to its first female aviator in 1995. Tragically, just a few months after becoming the first female Navy fighter pilot, Lieutenant Kara Spears Hultgreen was killed while attempting a carrier landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln off the California coast. Maloney, the squadron duty officer for the day and a good friend of Hultgreen, watched in horror as Hultgreen’s F-14 Tomcat lost altitude, rolled to the left, and disappeared. “We kept hoping Kara would be found, until it was obvious she had not survived. Several weeks later, divers discovered her body on the ocean floor, still strapped in her ejection seat,” Maloney writes in Military Fly Moms. At the memorial service on the Lincoln a few days later, Maloney gave the eulogy.

Maloney had herself experienced a traumatic incident while flying, but was fortunate enough to survive. In 1991, the E6-A Prowler she was navigating, at 15,000 feet and one hundred miles off the Florida coast, became sluggish, lost hydraulics, and began to roll. The pilot yelled, “Eject!” In her own story in Military Fly Moms, Maloney explains what happened. “I pulled the lower ejection handle, and I remember a flurry of yellow papers (from my kneeboard card) flying around, and then my ejection seat exploding through the canopy glass. The pilot ejected seconds later. I lost consciousness briefly. When I came to, I was hanging in my parachute, descending toward the ocean.”

Luckily, Maloney received injuries no more serious than bruises. Only two women are known to have ejected prior to Maloney—Valentina Tereshkova, a Soviet cosmonaut, ejected from her space capsule 4.3 miles above the earth in 1963, the normal egress; and Lieutenant Kathy Cullen, navigator, ejected from an EA-4F Skyhawk in 1985 when the engine failed upon approach in instrument conditions. The pilot was killed. In addition to being the third known female ejectee.

Maloney was honored for being the first woman, among 6,000 ejections, using the Martin-Baker ejection seat. A few years later, Maloney became one of the first American women to fly combat missions, earning the distinguished Air Medal for combat for her flights enforcing the no-fly zone over Southern Iraq during Operation Southern Watch, designed to protect Shiite Muslims.

Towards the end of her Navy career, Maloney married and became a mom. She says, “As I packed away my flight gear in the basement just a few months after having my first son, I thought about the legacy, as a mom who’d enjoyed a very unique career, that I would pass down to him.”

Thinking about women military aviators who had also been mothers she had known, Maloney wondered how these women managed to combine such an intensely challenging career as military aviation with the even more challenging one of motherhood. And so her vision of passing on a legacy from this elite group of women was born, to which she devoted countless hours over the years while having her second son, working full-time, moving to another state, volunteering, mentoring, and fulfilling other modern-life duties and obligations.

Each woman in Military Fly Moms provided Maloney with her own personally written story, describing her family background, her education, how and when she became struck by aviation, her military experience, how she became a military aviator, her military aviation experiences, her entry into motherhood, and the balance she tried to maintain in both worlds. It is clear through the stories related in Military Fly Moms that not a single woman found the entire experience to be easy enough to sail through without obstacles or learning experiences. For most, an encouraging parent sent her on her path; a partnering husband supported her to keep following her dreams; and her children sustained her faith in herself. Many times, an aviator mom exited the military to focus on her family, only to find that she needed to return to the cockpit, and often did, whether in the Reserve or Guard, or with a civilian airline. Regardless of the enormous obstacles most faced in achieving their goals, they all persevered, and the most important lesson resonating throughout the stories is, “Don’t ever give up!”

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