Commentary Search

Equality in the U.S. military, Air Force, ICBM Force

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Michael Garrou
  • 90th Missile Wing command chief
February we celebrated African American Heritage month and the contributions Col. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., and the Tuskegee Airmen made to change the culture in the Air Force. Their early struggles paved the way for acceptance and equality for all Airmen without regard to race, color, or national origin. This month we celebrated Women's History Month. Their struggles within in Air Force are just as compelling. Women had to overcome gender bias, but they did so through dedicated service and outstanding performance.

In 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed the Women's Armed Services Integration Act allowing women to serve in the Armed Forces. During World War II, women proved to be capable pilots, although not in combat roles. Women were part of the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron then Women Air Force Service Pilots from 1942 to 1944.

These pilots flew more than 60 million miles of operational flights delivering 12,650 aircraft to U.S. Army Air Force units during the war. Even with these accomplishments, women only had limited roles within the Air Force. It wasn't until almost 30 years later in 1976 when women were accepted into the military on virtually the same levels as their male counterparts.

Over the next few years, women integrated fully into all types of jobs: tanker pilots, transport pilots, all types of aircraft maintenance, fire fighters, explosive ordnance disposal, security forces and numerous other careers. One of the last major hurdles came in 1993 when Col. Jeannie Leavitt became the first female fighter pilot. Another first for Leavitt happened in 2012 when she became the first female fighter wing commander. This truly broke one of the last barriers to women in the Air Force.

The ICBM force has a similar history of overcoming barriers to equality. In September of 1978, the first alert by a female crew manning a Titan missile site took place. Both Titan and Minuteman alert crews remained single gender until January of 1988 when the first mixed gender crews pulled alert.

One of the early pioneers of the time was Col. Linda Aldrich who was one of the first female missile crew members. Aldrich was also one of the first Minuteman II female alert crew members and one of the first female missile squadron commanders.

Aldrich, Leavitt and many other women in the military paved the way for gender quality in the Air Force. Women have served with honor and dignity and now serve without restriction based on gender. As I walk about in this wing I see men and women honorably serving as missile crew members, maintainers, security, mission support and medical professionals side by side as equal partners in mission accomplishment and mission success. I don't see male Airmen and female Airmen...I see dedicated Airmen performing their duty in service to our nation.