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Women’s History Month: Appreciating the Past and Looking to the Future

a woman sitting at a desk

U.S. Air Force Major Johanna O’Toole, commander of the 97th Logistics Readiness Squadron, sits at her desk March 8, 2019, at Altus Air Force Base, Okla. O’Toole commissioned into the Air Force through the ROTC program. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jeremy Wentworth)

ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --

“It’s not about being a female commander,” said Maj. Johanna O’Toole, 97 Logistics Readiness Squadron commander. “It’s about being an Airman and doing the best you can.”

Doing the best you can sometimes means looking back at the work of those who came before and recognizing what they have done to help pave the way for future success.

In 2016, U.S. Air Force Gen. Lorie Robinson became the first woman to lead a unified combatant command. Robinson exceeded the previous limitations in place to take her spot as a four-star general, inspiring many on her journey there. Robinson made history, but she also motivated other female Airmen to follow in her footsteps and chase their dreams.

One of those Airmen is O’Toole, who took command of the 97th LRS at Altus AFB in 2018.

“I once heard retired Gen. Lorie Robinson talk as a guest speaker,” said O’Toole. “People tried to highlight that she was one of the first female commanders and she said she was just an Airman. I admired how humble she was. How far she had gone was a great motivating factor to me.”

Although O’Toole was inspired by Robinson, that was not the reason she joined the military.

“My Air Force journey started in high school; I was a teenager trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life,” said O’Toole. “I wanted to go to college but I knew it was expensive and my father who spent thirty years in the Air Force suggested an ROTC scholarship. I thought it was a great way to go to college and have a guaranteed career.”

O’Toole is a self-proclaimed “military brat” and has military roots that run deep.

“My entire family is in the military,” said O’Toole. “I just joined the family business.”        

In addition to being in command of the 97th LRS, O’Toole has deployed in support of a variety of missions.

“I’ve deployed three times to Afghanistan,” said O’Toole. “Deployments are where we get to see the fruits of our labor. We get to see what we do when we’re in the fight. It helps us understand what we’re doing and how we’re helping the world.”

In the time in her career, O’Toole has met many women in the Air Force, but one group stands out to her.

“They might not get the recognition that they’re due, but I have a special place in my heart for single moms in the military,” said O’Toole. “They’re rock stars; they come into work every day and kill it, and then go home and are wonderful parents. I admire them.”

To the other women in the Air Force and those who are looking to join, O’Toole has a message.

“Be bold, speak up and be heard,” said O’Toole. “It’s easy to look around and realize you’re the only female at the table, the room or even the unit. At the end of the day, you wear a uniform, you’re an airman just like they are and you should have confidence that the Air Force trained you, and put their trust in you. Stand up and do the amazing things you can do. If not, you’re doing a disservice to yourself and the service.”

While O’Toole admires the past and present women in the Air Force, she doesn’t forget the future.

“It’s 2019. I’m a major and a sitting commander,” said O’Toole. “It’s not uncommon now, but a few years ago it would be a rarity and completely unheard of. It’s important to remember those who came before you and recognize the battles they fought and what they did for you. It’s a reminder we have a long way to go. If we look at the rank structure, I see less women than I’d like to see in higher ranks. I know women can excel in those slots; we just need to get the women in that position.”