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Actress, Spy, Nun - leadership reflects on women's history

  • Published
  • By Special Agent Rebecca Bates, OSI Expeditionary Detachment 2417

When I was a little girl, I asked my mom how she knew she wanted to be an accountant when she grew up. My mom told me she never wanted to be an accountant, but it was the best of the three career options for women of her time: accountant, teacher, or secretary. I had a hard time understanding why she only had three options, and I proudly declared I would one day be an actress spy nun. My mom did not think the Pope would let me be a spy and an actress on top of my sisterly duties. I told her I’d write him a letter, and he would obviously change his mind.

There was a time in history where women serving in the military seemed about as far-fetched as my aspirations to be a spy nun who acts. Thankfully, thousands of women before me saw societal norms as pointlessly restrictive and legislative road blocks as speed bumps to roll over. They were determined to serve their country, whether it meant concealing their identity, protesting policy, or prompting change through written word.

A well-worded letter was the first step for Col. Jacqueline Cochran in her journey to lead the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) during World War II.
In the early 1930s, Jacqueline Cochran discovered her love of flying after a friend offered her a ride in an aircraft. Within the next two years, Cochran earned her commercial pilot’s license and quickly garnered recognition as the best female pilot in the United States. As World War II began, Cochran wanted to fly in service to her country, but was limited by the legislation of the time. So, she wrote a letter.

In 1939, Cochran wrote to Lt. Col. Robert Olds to introduce the proposal of starting a women’s flying division in the Army Air Forces. In her letter, Cochran suggested women pilots could be employed to fly non-combat missions for the Air Corps Ferrying Command. By 1943, Cochran was appointed as the wartime head of WASP, leading over 1,000 female pilots flying all types of military aircraft from factories to military installations. She pioneered the integration of women into military aviation and ultimately retired from the USAF Reserves as a Colonel in 1970.

The legacies of Col. Cochran and countless of other female leaders have blazed the trail for the inclusion of women in all aspects of our Air Force. Today, we have over 250 female Red Tails who serve in every capacity of our deployed wing, from defending the installation to launching air strikes. We are critical contributors who are leaders in delivering combat air power to counter our greatest adversaries. And, best of all, we are a normal and common component of this wing. We are Airmen who serve based on our merits and capabilities, just as the original Red Tails and Col. Cochran fought for. Thank you for continuing our proud trail blazing legacy of radical inclusion.