Women's History Month

  • Published
  • By Amn Jeremy Wentworth
  • 97 AMW Public Affairs

Throughout history, women have filled vital roles in society, politics and the military, specifically the United States Air Force beginning in World War II.

In 1939, at the start of World War II, female pilots Jacqueline “Jackie” Cochran and Nancy Love made contact with the Army Air Corps, the precursor to the Air Force, in order to try to convince military leaders to let women fly non-combat missions.

The movement gathered steam, even getting attention and support of then First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The famous Air Force General Henry “Hap” Arnold originally denied the requests, but later approved of the idea deeming it necessary after the events of Pearl Harbor in 1942.

The group received the name of the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, or better known as WASPs.

The women received training that was identical to their male counterparts. Led by Cochran and Love, the WASPs were later assigned to ferrying commands to assist with war efforts.

Although the women served the military, they weren’t considered to be in the service nor did they receive the benefits. Despite women being forced to acquire their own housing and uniforms, the WASP’s still established an identity.

The WASPs adopted a mascot drawn by Walt Disney; Disney’s version of the Gremlin “Fifnella” which was originally brought to life by author Roald Dahl. This symbol became the mascot which was displayed on a patch the WASP’s wore proudly on their shoulders.

After the war ended President Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, allowing women to join the military but only serve in a limited capacity. Following the act’s expiration in 1976, the Air Force saw the first female Airmen.

Female Airmen naturally wanted to take to the sky as pilots to make their mark on history. In September 1977, 2nd Lt. Kathleen Rambo began her advanced training at Altus Air Force Base to be the first female pilot flying the C-141 Starlifter aircraft.

One month later, Altus AFB welcomed Capt. Betty Jo Payne, the first female Air Force navigator to the Air Force.

The next milestone in Altus AFB Women’s history came in March of 2000 when Altus received its first female operations group commander. Retired Maj. Gen. Michelle Johnson served in various roles all throughout the Air Force, made history at Altus by being one of the first female commanders of an Air Force operational wing, and retired as the commandant of the Air Force Academy.

As Women’s History Month concludes, Altus AFB reflects on its past. From women not being able to serve to making history, women have left their mark on not only Altus but the entire military. Altus AFB celebrates women’s history by looking forward to the work and future accomplishments of our brothers and sisters in arms.