Women in the Air Force are paving the way

Published: Friday, July 19, 2019 @ 12:01 AM


            Maj. Shawna Rochelle Kimbrell
Maj. Shawna Rochelle Kimbrell

In the Air Force and beyond, women have had vital roles in achieving victory and progress for the nation. On Aug. 26, the U.S. will celebrate Women’s Equality Day, marking the 99th anniversary of the adoption of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote.

As this day approaches, it is right take time to reflect on the accomplishments of some of the pioneering women that shaped the Air Force into what it is today.

Staff Sgt. Esther Blake is known as “The First Woman in the Air Force,” famously enlisting on July 8, 1948, the first minute of the first hour of the first day that women were eligible to enlist for active duty in the Women in the Air Force program, or WAF. She had already been serving the military for four years prior to enlisting in the WAF as a member of the Women’s Army Corps and continued to serve in the military honorably until 1954.

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Gen. Janet C. Wolfenbarger became the first woman in the Air Force to achieve the rank of four-star general on June 5, 2012. After attending high school in Beavercreek, she went on to be a member of the first co-ed class at the U.S. Air Force Academy. She finished her 35-year career serving at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base as commander of Air Force Materiel Command.

Maj. Shawna Rochelle Kimbrell was the first African-American fighter pilot to serve in the Air Force. After graduating from the Air Force Academy in 1998, she went on to earn her pilot wings and complete fighter fundamental training. She was deployed to Turkey and Saudi Arabia between 2001 and 2003 for Operation Northern and Southern Watch. Her flights in Northern Watch marked her as the first female pilot to fly combat missions for Misawa’s 35th Fighter Wing and the first African-American woman to employ ordnance in combat.

Brig. Gen. Kristin E. Goodwin became the first openly gay U.S. Air Force Academy commandant in May of 2017. After graduating from the academy in 1993, Goodwin earned her pilot wings and went on to have a very successful flight career ,flying seven different aircraft. As the USAFA commandant, she commanded a 4,000-member cadet wing and more than 200 Air Force and civilian personnel.

Sheila E. Widnall became the first woman to head a branch of the military when she served as Secretary of the Air Force from 1993 to 1997. Widnall attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as one of 23 women in the freshmen class of 900. She received her bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate of science, all from MIT. Prior to assuming the role of SECAF, she was a pilot, astrophysicist and MIT professor. She also served on the USAF Academy Board of Visitors and on advisory committees to the Military Airlift Command at Wright-Patterson AFB.

These women are just a handful of the many trailblazers that set out to create an Air Force that embraces women in leadership roles. Their careers have had lasting effects for women that serve today and will serve in the future. On Women’s Equality Day, these women and all the women that are essential to the Air Force mission to fly, fight and win- in air, space and cyberspace are celebrated.