ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
March is Women’s History Month, celebrating the struggles and successes of American women throughout the history of the United States. In honor of this, the 97th Air Mobility Wing is highlighting some of the stories of the hardworking women who keep the mission soaring every day.
Retired Chief Master Sgt. Gail Hargis, chief of protocol for the 97th AMW, served 28 years as an active duty Airman and has been serving at Altus AFB as a civil service employee for about eight years.
“I enlisted in the Air Force in 1982 right out of high school,” said Hargis. “I was a senior in high school, didn’t have a clue of what I was going to do and I saw a commercial on TV of an F-15 [Eagle] taking off in afterburners and the logo said ‘Aim High.’ I thought to myself, ‘That looks really fun; I would really enjoy something like that,’ so I went to the recruiter the next day [and enlisted].”
Hargis worked in various positions during her nearly three decades of active duty service.
“I spent the majority of my 28 years in the Fuels career field,” said Hargis. “Over the years I did a few special duties, was a PME instructor at Langley AFB, later did a curriculum design for the Senior NCO Academy and then I was the campus relations director for the Community College of the Air Force.”
Her career did not start out as fun or enjoyable as she may have pictured, however. In the 1980s, women were still struggling to be recognized as equals, enjoying the same opportunities and respect as men in the workplace, even in the armed forces. Hargis recalled one such incident she witnessed.
“Back in the day, the only people who had carpet in their offices were the flight commanders and flight chiefs, and one of my jobs as an Airman was to vacuum their offices before I went home for the day,” Hargis said. “One day when I finished vacuuming and shut the vacuum off to put it away, a Staff Sergeant said, ‘That’s what women should be doing in the Air Force,’ and that was just acceptable behavior back then. There wasn’t really anything to do about it.”
But that incident motivated Hargis. Her determination and resolve to be the best she could be led to a successful military career, achieving an Air Force first by becoming the first female chief master sergeant through the fuels career field.
The television commercial featuring the F-15 which helped start Hargis in her professional career also linked her to another life changing event - a chance meeting with an F-15 Crew Chief.
“My first duty station was Kadena Air Base in Okinawa [Japan]. While there, I went on a temporary duty assignment to Clark Air Base where I happened to meet my now husband Chris, who was an F-15 Crew Chief at the time,” Hargis said. “Ten years later our son, Aaron was born at Royal Air Force Lakenheath [England] and then seven years after that our daughter Alyssa was born in Montgomery, Alabama.”
The Air Force provided Hargis with opportunities to succeed in both her professional and personal life. In the early 2000s, Hargis received orders to Altus AFB and has been here ever since.
“In 2004 I was assigned here to Altus and Chris went to Korea for a remote assignment, so he joined us here a year later,” said Hargis. “Chris retired from active duty in 2009 and I retired in 2010 and we decided to make Altus our forever home.”
When asked about role models she looks up to, two names came to mind.
“My biggest role model would have to be my husband,” Hargis said with a smile. “He became a first sergeant when it was a cross-train, not a special duty. He was a first sergeant for 11 years and the best first sergeant I think I have ever known. He was really good at it and he really helped me and taught me a lot.”
“My second role model would have to be Esther Blake. She was the first woman in the Air Force,” said Hargis. “She enlisted in the first minute of the first hour of the first day regular Air Force duty became authorized for women on July 8th, 1948. She was a pioneer that helped pave the way for those of us who followed.”
With a total of 36 years of service to the Air Force, Hargis has seen some major changes when it comes to how women are treated.
“The Air Force has done a complete 180 when it comes to how we talk to women and how we respect them,” Hargis continued. “Things were said to us years ago that you just wouldn’t even think about saying [to a woman] today … It is definitely a lot different today - 100 percent for the better.”
Hargis has one piece of advice for present and future Airmen, men and women alike.
“If you are going to join the military, and even for young Airmen that are already in, you have to be committed,” said Hargis. “You’re in it to win it; if you’re not then why bother? To me commitment is learning everything you can about your job, learning everything you can about the Air Force and your unit of assignment and then getting up every day ready to serve. Not just going to work, but being committed to serving people… It’s in our Airmen’s Creed: you’re an Airman, you’re a warrior and you’ve answered your nation’s call.”