Story by A1C Breanna Klemm on 09/24/2019The U.S. Air Force's Air Education and Training Command welcomed rated officers and career enlisted aviators to come together during the Women's Fly-In event, Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, Sept. 18-21, 2019. For the first time, Mobility's Hometown sent an all-women aircrew to support and inspire others to "Fly Like a Girl."
This unique event is important for Airmen and future aviators because it is the only occasion across the Air Force that brings hundreds of women warriors together at one time. Although the Fly-In was an event focused on women, men were welcomed to attend and many did, showing strong support and understanding for fellow aviators. During the four-day event, women had the chance to interact and connect with their wingmen to solve the ongoing challenges of rated diversity throughout the military while also offering interactive opportunities for young aviators to see what the Air Force can offer.
"This is definitely one of my most memorable TDY's I have been on throughout my career," said USAF Master Sgt. Samantha Converse, a KC-135 Stratotanker instructor/evaluator boom operator assigned to the 54th Air Refueling Squadron, Altus Air Force Base, Okla. "Never in my 15 years in the Air Force have I seen, let alone been a part of, a group of women this big. This is something truly amazing."
For the first two days of the Fly-In, distinguished visitors and commanders were welcomed and gave speeches to motivate, inform and inspire women from across the Air Force. Some of these DV's included Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, AETC commander, Lt. Gen Jacqueline Van Ovost, USAF Headquarters Director of Staff, Maj. Gen. Craig Wills, 19th Air Force commander, Maj. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, USAF Recruiting Service commander, and Col. Samantha Weeks, 14th Flying Training Wing commander, Columbus Air Force Base, Miss.
In each speech, the importance of rated diversity was a topic. The Webster Dictionary defines rated diversity as "the condition of having or being composed of differing elements, especially the inclusion of different types of people in a group or organization." For the military, and particularly female aviators, this meaning is much deeper. Despite years of progress, rated diversity has been an ongoing issue that is a heavy and difficult topic to discuss for many women. Some of these problems include unequal treatment, difficulties with family planning, unfairness based on gender, and unprofessional behavior in the workplace.
"I think this event is the perfect time to have the conversations we don't have in our day-to-day lives, especially when being in a career field that is predominantly male," said USAF Maj. Rececca Deroche, a C-17 Globemaster III evaluator pilot assigned to the 58th Airlift Squadron, Altus AFB. "To be in a place where you can be received and accepted by other women facing the same challenges is really a valuable thing to have."
The Mighty 97th sent its own female aircrew to the event to represent the flying training mission. The team flying the KC-135 was USAF Maj. Alexandra Traa, a KC-135 instructor pilot with the 54th ARS, Capt. Rebecca Gooch, a KC-135 instructor pilot with the 54th ARS, and Master Sgt. Samantha Converse.
Additionally, Maj. Rececca Deroche, Maj. Johnathan Taylor, a KC-135 instructor pilot with the 54th ARS, and Tech. Sgt. Michelle Michels, an instructor loadmaster with the 58th AS represented Altus AFB at the event.
"I think females especially should kill the fear in what they're doing and just be confident," said Michels. "I think young women, especially in our career field, need to have confidence and an I'm not afraid to step outside the box' mentality. When you do this you grow, learn something new, and get to see what you're capable of. This event was something special and important because it highlighted these things and honored who we as women truly are."
On Sept. 21, 2018, aircrew had the opportunity to volunteer at the "Girls in Aviation Day" at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Fort Worth. This unique event, hosted by the North Texas Chapter of Women in Aviation International, is a free opportunity for girls ages eight to 18 to be introduced to the possibilities available in an aviation career field. Over 2,000 young women attended the event this year.
Aircrew taking part in the Fly-In also offered incentive flights to female ROTC and USAF Academy cadets aboard the C-130 Hercules and KC-135 at Alliance Airfield in Fort Worth. The KC-135 was flown and operated by the Altus aircrew and demonstrated an inflight refueling to the cadets.
"I always look forward to the incentive flight and spending time with the cadets," said Converse. "After every incentive flight I've ever done, a female cadet has pulled me aside and asked what it is like to be a girl in the Air Force. I love sharing the Air Force story, lighting the spark inside young women's minds and inspiring them to do great things."
Only 20% of the Air Force is comprised of women, and only 5% of those women are aviators. Although serving in the Air Force is a rewarding career, many challenges still arise in and out of the workplace for female aviators. The purpose of the Fly-In was to allow women the opportunity to share, network and discover solutions to problems that affect their workplaces and personal lives. Airmen attending the conference said the event did just that and more.
"I truly enjoyed getting to work with my girls this week. It's something, especially in the aviation career field, you don't see very often," said Gooch. "There is just something different, something more understanding about working with women that I enjoy. Since we don't get to do that very often, this opportunity has truly been one-of-a-kind and very special to me."
Over the weekend, the AETC Women's Fly-In drew in the biggest group of female aviators in the Air Force and successfully proved itself to be a monumental event for women and men throughout the military. Networking, creative solutions and unbreakable bonds between understanding wingmen were built while maintaining professionalism at its finest. Over 110 rated officers and career enlisted aviators, including a proud Mighty 97th team, gathered to show their support for those who "Fly Like a Girl."