Monday, September 10, 2012

Female pilots few, but proud

From  Female pilots few, but proud

On May 22, 1912, 1st Lt. Alfred Cunningham reported to Annapolis, Md., for duty, marking the birth of Marine Corps aviation. It was another 81 years, in 1993, before 2nd Lt. Sarah Deal was selected as the first female Marine to attend Naval aviation training.
Deal paved the way for the hundreds of female Marines who have since followed — Marines like Capt. Andrea Neagle.
As a senior in high school, Neagle watched the twin towers go down on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, and like so many other men and women that day, she decided to join the military.
“It just got me thinking about what I was doing with my life and what I was contributing to the country,” she said.
She applied to the U.S. Naval Academy and, to her own astonishment, was accepted. Neagle spent the next four years learning the ins and outs of military service, before finally deciding she wanted to spend her military career as a Marine.
“I always admired the Marines,” Neagle said. “They took pride in their work and it was always about the Marine you were taking care of.”
As for her occupation, like only a few women before her, she decided she wanted to earn her wings as a Marine aviator and MV-22 Osprey pilot.
“I figured, ‘What’s cooler than flying?’” said Neagle, one of about 10 female Osprey pilots — out of a total 400 Osprey pilots — currently serving in the Marine Corps.
Neagle said like all other pilots, she’s been taught to see herself as a Marine officer first, and a pilot second. But being a female Marine officer alone puts Neagle in another minority group.
Female officers make up about 6 percent of the entire officer Corps, and that’s a responsibility that Neagle said puts more pressure on her than being a pilot does.
“I don’t feel extra pressure because I’m in the pilot community,” Neagle said. “I think more because I’m an officer. You’re one of a few and it’s more responsibility and how you carry yourself and how you react to things — people watch.”
The reason why so few females serve as pilots was simple for Neagle to explain: “They just don’t want to be a pilot,” she said, adding that many of her female officer friends are perfectly capable of making it through the rigorous pilot training.
Although only a small percentage of women fly planes in the Marine Corps — 2.5-percent of Osprey pilots are female — women in Marine Corps aviation have come a long way over the past century.
“For us, it’s not really like ‘Hey we’re the females out there,’” Neagle said. “We’re just one of the Marines lucky and privileged to fly a plane.”


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