Commentary: All-female AAFB aircrew honors WASP legacy at women’s summit

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Ashley Upton
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing

I, along with an all-female KC-135 Stratotanker crew from Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma, attended the annual women's summit at Dyess AFB, Texas, April 28, 2022, to celebrate women’s history throughout the Air Force.

This inaugural event marked the 80th anniversary of the Women Air Force Service Pilots organization, also known as WASP. Many all-female aircrews attended the event showcasing their aircraft to over 170 students from Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps units, local elementary schools and high schools. Distinguished guest speakers such as Maj. Gen. Laura L. Lenderman, Air Mobility Command director of operations for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration, Chief Master Sgt. Melvina Smith, Air Force Global Strike command chief, and Erin Miller, author of the book “Final Flight” and granddaughter to Elaine Danforth Harmon, a WASP who passed away in 2015, were also in attendance.

Lt. Col. Sarah Bulinski, 97th Air Mobility Wing chief of safety and KC-135 Stratotanker instructor pilot, said it was inspirational to be a part of the event and celebrate women aviators and trailblazers of the past, present and future.

“Seeing and hearing from all the women at the event stirred appreciation for how the WASP has directly impacted my life. I was struck by the weighty influence that Lenderman has on military aviation, and I am hopeful for the future aviators that I saw in the students,” she said. “We have come so far as an Air Force and nation, and I look forward to seeing where we can go from here.”

The event inspired the AAFB aircrew, who enjoyed showcasing one of the Air Force’s key aircraft, the KC-135, to the attendees.

“My favorite part from the Women’s Summit was seeing ladies from all walks of life and learning from them,” said Capt. Ilma Vallee, 97th Training Squadron student pilot. “Whether it was meeting Lenderman and learning from her Air Force journey, or an instructor pilot and the challenges of being a mother and commanding a squadron, or being greeted with contagious enthusiasm from an elementary school student counting down the years till she can start flying. We all had something to share with each other.”

The WASP program was established in 1943 to fill critical roles during World War II missions such as aircraft transportation and testing.

The WASP legacy has inspired many to join the Air Force ranks, including myself. Listening to Erin Miller talk about her grandmother was truly inspiring. Her grandmother endured so much discrimination to pave the way for the women of today. We have come so far, and seeing all the young women in attendance and the many all-female aircrew inspiring these young women gives me even more hope for the future of our Air Force and the Armed Forces as a whole.