Women in the Air Force--an unbroken tradition of excellence.
Remarks to the Women in Aviation, International, Reno, Nev., March 12, 2004
Thank you Dr. Chabrian (Dr. Peggy Baty Chabrian, president and founder) for your kind words and gracious Introduction.
Director Blakely, Ambassador Stimson, General Mullis, General Chinnock, members of Women in Aviation International, ladies and gentlemen, it is my great privilege this morning to join the distinguished line-up of leaders and aviators who are here to celebrate and promote the role of women in aviation. WAI's mission to mentor future aviators, promote aviation as a career choice for women, and encourage the advancement of women in aviation fields reflects objectives that are as admirable as they are practical. This is a special community, and one that is held in high regard, whether you are serving in the private sector, or in government.
Every individual who gains employment in the field of aviation joins a special group of citizens--those who continue to contribute to one of humankind's greatest achievements, powered flight. The achievements of the aviators of this century--in the military, in civilian aviation, in space, in industry, and in the minds of great thinkers--were born of a determined pursuit. And from this relentless quest for innovation and exploration, we have created a remarkable capability for our nation.
I am personally grateful for the role WAI plays in supporting the further development of this capability. By providing resources to assist women in aviation, and encouraging young women to consider aviation as a career choice, you continue the work of aviation's pioneers, expanding the boundaries of flight as well as the aspirations of women who seek to slip the surly bonds and, as we like to say in the Air Force, "cross into the blue."
It is my great personal honor to lead the 700,000 active, guard, reserve and civilian men and women of the Air Force. They are all "Airmen." We are one Air Force. And our nation remains free today as a result of their bravery, excellence, and selfless service.
One year ago today, hundreds of thousands of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines were poised to go into battle to fight yet another battle in our war on terrorism. On March 19, 2003, they joined that battle, executing an operation that would be known as Iraqi Freedom. Within 21 days, our joint and coalition team had effectively broken coherent resistance in Baghdad and collapsed the regime's control. Five days after that, we occupied the last major Iraqi city, Tikrit. In doing so, we replaced a despotic government and, as we promised, liberated 25 million Iraqis--there still is a lot of work to do. While there will be challenges, it is clear the vast majority of the Iraqi people are better off today than they were a year ago, and that the United States is free from a threat to our interests and our citizens. The recent signing of the Transitional Administrative Law is a sign that we truly are making progress.
Our successes are not limited to Iraq. The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has a constitution and is on a path to claim its place as a sovereign member of the community of nations. We have captured or killed 45 of the 55 most wanted in Iraq, and close to two-thirds of known senior al-Qaeda operatives. We have disrupted terrorist cells on most continents, and we have prevented additional terrorist attacks. These are dramatic achievements. They demonstrate the professionalism of our armed forces, the effectiveness of our interagency counter-terrorism effort, and, they communicate to the world the efficacy of our strategy.
The teamwork, mutual trust, and excellence of our joint and coalition force produced these victories in our first two battles in the war on terrorism. And, as we like to point out, these military successes were not accidents of history that might have been different had a battle or two gone in the favor of the enemy. On the contrary--for more than a decade, we've displayed unparalleled air and space dominance. The discipline of our Airmen, their dominance in warfighting, and their decisiveness in combat are the product of a sustained investment--an investment in the Airmen who fight, in superlative Airmen who lead, in the technology of warfighting, and in the concepts of operation that guide our efforts.
These successes are a tribute to the outstanding men and women of our armed forces. Without them--and their courage in conflict--none of this would be possible. And, as you in this room know better than most, that professional team--that disciplined team of brave and selfless servants to our nation--includes of thousands and thousands of women. Woman who lead, woman who serve, and women who are prepared to pay the ultimate sacrifice for this great land.
Throughout much of history, the service of women in conflict has gone unnoticed. But, not always. The stories of woman warriors have been passed down through the generations--Boadicea's revolts against the Roman Empire, Joan of Arc's leadership of French armies, and the sacrifice of 25,000 Yugoslavian women fighting the Nazis in World War II are but a few examples.
In the history of our nation, women have served and excelled in conflict. From the heroism of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker in the Civil War--the first and only woman to earn the Medal of Honor--to the Women Airforce Service Pilots in World War II--the first women pilots to fly military aircraft; to Major Marie Rossi--the first woman pilot to give her life in combat, women have played a valuable role in securing our nation's liberty.
Part of that storied history now includes the first war of the 21st Century. In our active force today, more than 13,000 women serve as officers, and nearly 60,000 serve in our enlisted ranks, almost 20 percent of our force. They serve in combat roles, as leaders, as aviators, and in virtually every specialty in the Air Force. They go into combat, they support combat, they supply combat, and they mend those who serve in combat. Most significant, their achievements in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom are noteworthy not because they were performed by women, but because of their significant contributions to operational successes. Let me share a few of those stories with you.
This is the story of the Predator remotely piloted aircraft that was searching out a TV transmission dish in Baghdad. You'll recall that there was this character during the war that many of us affectionately referred to as "Baghdad Bob," the Information Minister who was putting out those fantastic stories every day. Well, we wanted to get him off the air. But, his TV dish was located very close to the Grand Mosque; thus, we couldn't use a large warhead to destroy it and risk significant collateral damage. So, we sent in the Predator with a Hellfire missile, and its 40-pound warhead to prevent collateral damage. Our pilot that day was a young, female F-15 pilot, call sign "Ivana." She was able to locate this dish, precisely strike it, and the Fox News dish that was located next to it never stopped broadcasting for a moment. It was humorous to listen to her later-on talking about dashing out of the target area after the strike. As some of you know, the Predator can only fly about 70 miles an hour, so dashing really is not much of an option. This was a minor tactical operation, yet it had major strategic effects--removing a source of Iraqi propaganda that many in the Middle East believed was describing very real events.
On another day during the Iraqi war, we lost an F-15E. We learned later that the two-person crew had been killed, but there was an extensive search and rescue operation that was launched to find them had they been alive. To keep that search and rescue operation up over Tikrit, one of our brave KC-135 crews flew over that very dangerous area, and orbited for some time to make sure that the rescue forces there had plenty of fuel. The area in which they were flying was directly in the heart of the Iraqi air defense system, consisting of more than 50 strategic surface-to-air missiles systems and 200 anti-aircraft artillery sites. The crew completed three aerial refuelings of search and rescue aircraft before exiting that dangerous region. The navigator of that KC-135 was Captain Tricia Paulson Howe. The extraordinary bravery shown by her and her crewmates is an example to all of us.
As we learn of the bravery of our Airmen, we match the determination of this generation with our noble heroes of the past. Another one that comes to mind is Captain Kim Campbell, an A-10 pilot who had her aircraft badly shot up working below the weather with the 3rd Infantry Division. Despite enemy ground fire that took out her hydraulics and a surface-to-air missile impact that destroyed much of her aircraft's tail, she was able to get her airplane back to Tallil AB, Iraq, and land it safely. Only after exiting the cockpit did she recognize the full extent of the damage to her plane. Her wingman was effusive in his praise of her cool-headed competence.
When asked about her dangerous, close air support mission, she simply said, "our guys were taking fire and you want to do everything you can to help them out. That's our job; that's what we do." That was an act of heroism and bravery that is characteristic of the outstanding Airmen in our Air Force.
For their aerial skill and heroism in combat, both Captain Howe and Captain Campbell received the Distinguished Flying Cross. Those were just two of the eight Distinguished Flying Crosses awarded to women aviators during Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. This is the first time in the history of our Air Force that we have awarded DFCs for valor in combat to women. Further, I'd like to note that Captain Andra Van Poppel-Kniep, an A-10 forward air controller, earned two DFCs for her combat heroism during Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan. An historic aerial achievement, her actions resulting in these awards were on successive days--March 5 and 6, 2002. It takes an extraordinary individual to face their fears in combat, and to then go back the next day and display bravery yet again worthy of this recognition. She is a genuine American hero.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I also want to note that it is not only our woman officers who are exposed to combat. We have almost 900 enlisted woman aviators in nine specialties that serve in combat and combat support roles. And for those who join our Air Force today, it is very likely that they will see expeditionary service soon after their arrival.
Senior Airman Shonna Golbek, a KC-135 boom operator from McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., is a perfect example of this point. At 24, she decided to change her life and join the Air Force. She sought an opportunity to serve her nation. Senior Airman Golbek hadn't even entered the Air Force on Sept. 11,2001. Today, she is serving in the 908th Expeditionary Refueling Squadron in Southwest Asia. This is her fourth deployment. She is a combat veteran, and has earned four Air Medals for service in combat operations over Afghanistan and Iraq.
Staff Sergeant Brenda Thacker is another example of our devoted enlisted woman aviators. A nine-year Air Force veteran, she is a computer radar maintenance technician assigned to the Air Control Wing at Tinker AFB, Okla. She flies in our AWACS aircraft. She has served in the skies over Washington, D.C. after 9/11, and has deployed three times to support combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
When her squadron commander was selecting the initial team to go to war in OIF, she was on one of the first four crews. And when the first shots of the conflict were fired--H-Hour--she was airborne, helping to direct support of the total coalition effort and serving our nation in combat. She has flown dozens of combat support missions and has earned two Air Medals and two Aerial Achievement Medals for her service since 9/11.
In addition to her combat decorations, she's been recognized for her excellence in another way. Through her many years of deployments--seven in nine years--she never lost sight on advancing her education, opportunities made available to her by Air Force tuition assistance, as well as our focus on developing professional Airmen. On Dec. 3, 2002, the day before she deployed to Afghanistan, she completed her Bacheloreatte in Business Management. And just two months ago, we selected her to attend Officer Training School. Shortly she will become one of the Air Force's newest second lieutenants. We know that she will bring to the officer corps an expeditionary focus, and the mindset of a combat veteran. And she is just one of hundreds and thousands of other professional women serving in the Air Force.
Diversity--Achieving Mission Excellence
These are just a few examples of the excellence of our outstanding women Airmen. Yet, in a broader sense, they are illustrative of our deliberate and comprehensive approach to delivering mission excellence.
The demands we face in the world today, and those we anticipate in the foreseeable future, require an air and space expeditionary force of the very best people our nation has to offer. Developing this cadre of professional Airmen, and defending our nation, requires the Air Force to seek out and employ talented people from every corner of our society.
To that end, we need aircrews, intelligence specialists, satellite operators, aircraft maintainers, base defenders--and many others--with an understanding of the international environment, foreign language proficiency, and an appreciation of different cultures. We need expeditionary Airmen who have the right skill sets to contribute to coalition operations, shape events, and rapidly respond to worldwide contingencies. We need Airmen who have an appreciation of history and can apply the lessons of the past to deal with the uncertainties of the future. These skills are true force multipliers, and are essential to our ability to operate globally.
To achieve these objectives, we are committed to tapping into the diverse talent of America's rich national heritage. And once these talented Americans join our Air Force, we are committed to developing each of them to their fullest potential. It is a performance-based strategy, fostered by Air Force leaders to leverage the unique qualities of all of our members.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is not a quota system by another name, or an attempt to correct a historical wrong. On the contrary. In the Air Force, we are committed to diversity of gender, culture, thought, creativity, education, and problem solving skills. We value diversity for the wealth of insight, perspective, and skill it provides the Air Force, while enabling us to remain a unified force that achieves common goals and objectives. Fundamentally, our focus on diversity is about achieving mission excellence, and sustaining the air and space dominance we enjoy today.
And just as WAI is focused on education, development, and training to promote aviation, we find that the principal source of our Air Force's long-term success is our dedication to developing Airmen. It is one of our three Core Competencies, and is at the heart of our combat capability. We develop and mentor all of our Airmen, ensuring that when asked, they are prepared to do the mission. Without a genuine focus on developing professional Airmen and capitalizing on the diverse talents they bring to our service, our ability to fully realize mission excellence could be jeopardized.
It is appropriate for us to celebrate the successes of our women aviators--they've set a new measure of success for women in aviation, and add to the litany of historical achievements for which we are all very proud. Yet, while we commemorate these achievements, we will never forget those of their fellow women aviators who made the ultimate sacrifice in our war on terrorism.
On March 23, 2003, during Operation Enduring Freedom, a pair of HH-60s scrambled from Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. The mission was an urgent medevac needed to save the lives of two injured Afghani children. While enroute to the rescue site, one of those helicopters crashed, killing six Airmen, including First Lieutenant Tammy Archuleta, the copilot of Komodo 11. When she crashed, this officer, this female aviator, this mother of a three-year-old son, was doing exactly what her profession expected of her. She was living by the motto that defines those in the rescue community: "these things I do that others may live."
And we should not forget the death of another woman aviator, Staff Sergeant Anissa Shero of Grafton, W. V. We lost Sergeant Shero in the crash of an Air Force special operations aircraft in Afghanistan on June 12, 2002. A 10-year Air Force veteran, and the spouse of another member of our Air Force family, she was the first Air Force woman to die in Afghanistan.
She was part of our successful effort to crush the Taliban and free the people of Afghanistan from decades of tyranny. Men and women in both nations are safer now because of her service. All of us who value freedom owe Staff Sergeant Shero a profound debt of gratitude. She died doing her duty, and we will not forget her.
The Airmen about whom I spoke this morning are part of America's finest, and are products of our strategy to sustain the dominance we enjoy in air and space operations. Many of their male colleagues also fought gallantly in Afghanistan and Iraq. And, some also paid the ultimate price. And, because they were trained and ready, they met the standards of integrity, service, and excellence we expect of all members of the Air Force team.
Many years ago [in 1639], one of the original authors of religious freedom in America, the minister John Clark, noted: "No war without a woman." As history teaches, women always have been, and they will always be part of war: as fighters, victims or both. The difference now is that we are developing professional warriors who happen also to be women.
It is our obligation to them to ensure their readiness. And it is our commitment to you, the citizens of this land who enjoy the freedoms that are provided in part by America's Air Force, to continue to deliver air and space dominance. Thank you.
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|Title Annotation:||Secretary of the Air Force James G. Roche|
|Publication:||Air Force Speeches|
|Date:||Mar 12, 2004|
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