by Martha Lockwood
Air Force News Service
3/17/2013 - WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- In
a quote from one of Shakespeare's plays, "Twelfth Night," the character
Malvallo remarks that "some are born great, some achieve greatness and
some have greatness thrust upon 'em."
Women in the Air Force (WAF) produced many such women who did not set
out to be trailblazers but whose accomplishments personified the dream
and made it an achievable reality in the minds of those who came after.
WAF--not to be confused with the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron
(WAFS), a small group of female transport pilots that existed for little
more than two years (1942-44) and was part of the Women Air Force
Service Pilots (WASPs) before their disbanding--was a program which
served to bring women into limited roles in the Air Force. Women pilots
from World War II would have been excellent leaders, but they were
diverted to the Reserves.
Instead, greatness was thrust upon many WAFs just by being the first
woman to do something. In retrospect, their accomplishments mirror the
Air Force's evolution.
The first WAF squadron arrived at Lackland AFB in 1948 when President
Truman signed the Women's Armed Services Integration Act that allowed
women to serve directly in the military.
When basic training for women was desegregated in 1949, African-American
recruits joined the WAFs in greater numbers. Forty-one years later, the
first African-American female brigadier general, Marcelite Harris,
attained the rank.
Maj. Barbara A. Wilson (Ret.) was the first enlisted WAF to complete
Officer Training School in the 50s. She had enlisted as a Private at
Lackland AFB then steadily moved up the ranks as she completed her
Bachelor of Arts degree through a military program at Long Island
In 1951, MaryBelle Johns Nissly was recruited to return to military life
(she had left the military in 1956) at the rank of captain as conductor
and commander of the 18-member WAF Band that served as ambassadors for
the Air Force, participating in three inaugural parades and numerous
concerts here and abroad.
In 1956, a WAF section was introduced into the Reserve Officer Training
Corps (ROTC), and by 1959, four universities were running the program.
By 1970 became more national in scope, and in 1980, a graduate of Texas
Tech University, Maj. Gen. Wendy M. Masiello, was commissioned via
The first enlisted WAFs to serve in Vietnam began arriving in June 1967,
bringing the grand total of WAF involvement to five enlisted and four
officers. Ultimately more WAFs would arrive to support the war effort if
not be actively involved in combat. In the end, it would be the Air
Force that supplied the planes and nurses for "Operation Babylift" out
of Tan Son Nhut Air Base Vietnam, April 1975.
In 1976, women were accepted into the military on much the same basis as
men, and the separate status of WAF was abolished. That same year,
President Ford signed legislation that lifted the ban of women in the
military academies. Many military historians note that date as the point
in which the role of women in the military changed forever, and more
women would meet the needs of the age, helped immeasurably by standing
on the shoulders of greatness.