JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska --
Seven years before it was National Women’s History Month, it was Women’s History Week. And prior to that, women across the globe were only celebrated on International Women’s Day.
But now, the celebration of women’s recognition that started from a single day, expands over a month, and a new presidential proclamation is issued every year to honor the achievements of American women.
Women in the 3rd Wing at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson work hard with their teams to fulfill their missions and understand that they are Airmen both on and off duty.
”Growing up, I told myself, ‘There’s no way I’ll ever join the military.’” said U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class, Elisabeth Wright, aircraft loadmaster assigned to the 517th Airlift Squadron, recounting her initial thoughts of joining the military. “I’m not strong enough, physically or mentally.”
During her early stages in life, Wright faced many hardships early on.
“Dad passed away when I was 15 from sarcoma cancer and Sam [sister] in a car accident when I was 4,” she said.
Wright described feeling that she needed to step up into a “traditionally male” role after her father passed. She saw her late father as the main provider in the family, so she felt the responsibility of taking care of her family by finding a good-paying job with benefits.
With that in mind and inspired by her dreams of flying, Wright enlisted in the Air Force.
Through much research and talking to veterans and active duty servicemembers, she realized becoming a loadmaster was the perfect first step to kick-start her career and achieve her goal of one day operating an aircraft.
After reflecting on her growth throughout the years, she offers a piece of advice to all future Airmen.
“If I were to talk to my younger self or future Airman, I would have to say ‘never say never, because you’ll never know how things will turn out,’” said Wright. “You’re going to change every day, so make that day count and go after what you want with all your heart.”
Wright speaks about the challenges she has faced while serving in the military, describing what it’s like to be underestimated due to being a female service member.
“It’s unfortunate because you don’t know what someone has to offer just by judging a book by its cover,” Wright said.
“Don’t underestimate yourself, and don’t let anyone else underestimate you. Be strong, be smart and hold your own weight. Everything you need to succeed in life is within you, so push yourself to be the best you can for you. Make yourself proud of what you do and how you handle yourself. You got this!”
It’s important to see the impact of how women have shaped our Air Force today, from female service members at different ranks and at different points of their careers
U.S. Air Force Master Sergeant Valerie Stephens, operations superintendent assigned to the 517th Airlift Squadron, also spoke about her career and how it has progressed, describing how U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen Norma E. Brown has inspired her along the way.
In December 1974, Brown was given command of the 6940th Security Wing on Goodfellow Air Force Base, San Angelo, Texas, marking the first time a woman led an Air Force wing.
Stephens says one of the biggest challenges women face in the Air Force today parallels what Maj. Gen Brown faced in 1951, which is the number of women that serve in the military.
Although the numbers are greater than they were in 1951, when looking at the demographics from 2022, only 21.4% of the force is women, explained Stephens.
Being no stranger to challenges in the Air Force, Stephens wants the next generations of Airmen to take a word of advice from her.
She says, “I would tell myself or other Airmen who want to serve in the military that when faced with challenges, take them as they come and find a way to push forward.”
“You will be challenged regardless of gender, and you can either kneel down to the challenge or meet it head-on and learn from it,” said Stephens. “Whether you fail at the challenge or succeed, learning and growing as a person and member of the USAF is the most important aspect, in my opinion.”
Looking back at history shows that no matter what challenges you may face as a woman in the Air Force, if you go forward and face those challenges head-on, you can accomplish anything you set your mind to.
Strides have been made throughout the years, and the Air Force has accomplished several milestones to modernize the force.
Notable moments that have contributed to women’s history in the Air Force are when U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. JoAnne S. Bass was selected to become the 19th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, becoming the first woman in history to serve as the highest-ranking non commissioned member of a U.S. military service.
Last year, a new Air Force policy stated aircrew members may voluntarily request to fly during pregnancy. No waiver is required to fly in the second trimester with an uncomplicated pregnancy in a non-ejection seat aircraft if all flight safety criteria are met. All pregnant aircrew members are also authorized to apply for a waiver regardless of trimester, aircraft or flight profile.
The road ahead isn’t over for women in the Air Force, but innovation continues to influence daily life and duty for female Airmen, moving history forward for generations of women.
Stephens encourages younger female service members, reminding them that no matter what challenges or roadblocks stand in the way, to give everything they have, learn from their failures, and strive to be the best they can be.