Sunday, March 17, 2013

Women in AF paved way, often through adversity

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 University.

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 AFROTC.

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.