by Monica Mendoza
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — It’s been more than 60 years since Staff Sgt. Esther Blake became the first woman in the Air Force. So eager was she to join, Sergeant Blake signed up in the first minute of the first day that Air Force duty was authorized for women, July 8, 1948.
In that first year, 4,300 other women also joined the Air Force. Since then, women have been writing themselves into military history.
Today, there are more than 64,000 women in the Air Force. Consider these Air Force women: Flight nurse Lillian Kinkella Keil made 250 evacuation flights during World War II and 175 evacuation flights during the Korean War, becoming one of the most decorated women in American military history; In 1979, Chief Master Sgt. Dorothy Holmes was the first female chief to retire from the Air Force with 30 consecutive years of service; In 1995, Lt. Col. Eileen Collins was first female commander of a space shuttle; In 2003, Maj. Melissa May, an F-16 fighter pilot, earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for a mission over Baghdad; In 2006, Maj. Nicole Malachowski was the first female pilot to join the Air Force Thunderbirds team; And, since 2001, more than 230,000 women in all branches of the military have served in the Middle East.
This year is the 30th anniversary of the National Women’s History Project with the theme “Writing Women Back Into History.” The Peterson Women’s History Observance Committee has five events planned including a kick-off event, a five-kilometer run/walk, a panel discussion with senior leaders, a luncheon, and a fitness fair featuring a workout with a star of the TV show American Gladiators.
“We’ve got some rock n’ roll things going on,” said Capt. Yvonne Pacheco, 21st Force Support Squadron Personnel and Manpower Flight commander and committee co-chair. “It’s going to be a great month.”
March 2: Women’s All Call, noon at the Peterson Base Exchange. The kick-off event is for everyone – active duty Airmen, spouses, retirees and civilians – to celebrate the start of Women’s History Month. Cake will be served and prizes will be given away.
“It is important we don’t forget how far we have come, to show Airmen it is possible to balance family and careers and to encourage future women to pursue their dreams angoals,” said committee member Tech. Sgt. Cheryl Benefield, 721st Communications Squadron.
March 5: “Race for Life” five kilometer run/ walk at 11:30 a.m. starting at Eagle Park, behind the tennis courts. The event is for runners and walkers and is open to everyone. There will be T-shirts and other prizes for participants and representatives from the local affiliate of the Susan G. Komen For the Cure, an organization for breast cancer survivors and activists, will be on hand with information about self-breast exams and healthy living.
Events like Peterson’s Race for Life can help cancer survivors and their family members, who need moral support, said committee member Airman 1st Class David Pida, 21st FSS. These events help survivors and family members connect with others who understand what they’ve been through and it allows the rest of the Peterson community to show support for those families.
“Cancer as a whole is among the leading causes of death and even an early diagnosis can take a huge toll on a family,” Airman Pida said. “Being married to a brain-tumor survivor, I know personally how helpful it is to talk with others and just see that you’re not alone in your struggle.”
March 10: “Writing Women Back Into History Panel Discussion,” 1:00 p.m. at the Forrest L. Vosler NCO Academy, Building 1142, auditorium. The panel features Air Force active duty, retired and civilian senior leaders. One panelist is retired Chief Master Sgt. Dorothy Holmes, the first female chief to retire from the Air Force with 30 years consecutive service. Chief Holmes, an active volunteer on Peterson Air Force Base, will reflect on her career and how things have changed for women.
“Most women issues are not unique to one specific woman,” said committee co-chair Joan Johnson, 21st Contracting Squadron. “We wear many hats: mother, wife, Airman. Learning how to balance those things takes time and skill. Hopefully, talking to other senior women leaders who have tackled the same challenges will be inspirational, motivational and let them know they too can be successful.”
March 17: Women’s History Month luncheon, 11:30 a.m. at The Club, featuring U.S. Air Force Academy graduate Maj. Melissa May, who has flown nearly 200 combat hours as an F-16 senior pilot. While on a mission over Baghdad in 2003, Major May and her fighter formation destroyed several Soviet-made surface-to-air missile launchers while under fire. For this mission, Major May was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
“While I was in-processing the Air Force Academy, I was asked what I wanted to do in the Air Force,” said Major May. “I replied, ‘I want to fly an F-16.’ I was laughed at and told I would never be allowed to fly fighter jets.”
March 24: Women’s Health Fitness Fair, 11 a.m. at the Sports and Fitness Center, Building 560. Star of the TV show “American Gladiators” Tanji Johnson will host a one-hour workout, “Gladiator Boot Camp,” at noon. A graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Ms. Johnson is ranked in the top four of the International Federation of Body Builders and has earned five professional IFBB fitness titles. The fair and Gladiator Boot Camp workout are open to everyone.
“This is an opportunity for each individual to learn some fun and new ways to stay active,” said committee member Master Sgt. Richard Pyle, 21st FSS. “We have brought together the talent and knowledge for each individual to set their personal goals, ways to stay fit and the potential to extend their life, from Gladiator Boot Camp to ways to check yourself for cancer, we have it all.”