This post was written by Rear Adm. Wendi Carpenter, the 31st female naval aviator and the first woman Navy pilot to make flag rank. She now serves as the Commander, Navy Warfare Development Command, Norfolk and wrote this post while attending the Women in Aviation International Conference held in Reno, Nev. February 22 – 27.
The 100th Anniversary of Naval Aviation is an extraordinary milestone that gives the sea services opportunity to commemorate the unique contributions naval aviation has made to our national security. The first woman pilot in the United States flew in 1911. The WASPs (or Women Air Service Pilots) were trained in WWII and provided unheralded service to the nation throughout the war. Just this past year they were recognized by a proclamation passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by the President. The military only began to recognize the capabilities of women and train them as aviators in the past four decades. The Navy took another 17 years to bring them fully into the tactical aircraft community. The tide has turned. Naval Aviation through time has transformed… from taking advantage of technological advances to taking advantage of the diverse population.
Part of the turning tide has been the Navy’s increasing involvement and presence at the Women in Aviation International Conference. It is always a joy for me to be a part of this power-packed event and I look forward to it with great anticipation. This year – no exception- is fully charged with ground-breaking milestones.
One milestone with which I was involved, and which gives me great sense of satisfaction, is the newly formed WAI Chapter in Iraq. This has materialized over the past year since the last WAI Conference where I met a young Air Force C-130 pilot, 1st Lt. Chrystina Short. Chrystina has just returned from a deployment to Iraq a month ago. While she was overseas, we were “Facebooking” one another (which is an easy and effective way for me to mentor). The thought occurred to me after having just spoken at the WAI Conference in Johannesburg, Africa and posting the pictures on Facebook… “Why not start an Iraq-chapter of WAI?” So when Chrystina commented on the posts for South Africa, I responded that she should start such a chapter. AND so she did! The rest is now being written in the pages of history, and joining us at the WAI Conference this year are two young women from Iraq – Shahad & Zahrau. They have just this week graduated Air Traffic Control School in Miami. These young ladies are exceptional women, motivated and passionate about aviation. They both hold other degrees to include Laser Physics and Computer Science.
Honoring Naval Aviation’s 100th year of flight underscores our commitment to sustaining a Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard responsive to the challenges of the 21st century. Things have come a long way since Barbara Ann Allen Rainey (August 20, 1948 – July 13, 1982), received her wings of gold as the first female to be designated a Naval aviator in February 1974 and became the first Navy woman to qualify as a jet pilot. We now have women operating in all of the communities of Naval Aviation. Additionally, we have reached other significant milestones, such as the first woman Carrier Strike Group Commander, Rear Adm. Nora Tyson, and the first Carrier Air Wing Commander, Capt. Sara Joyner. The good news is these firsts are behind us and the doors are open for those coming after.
The Navy is advancing into new dimensions of discovery and innovation to more fully employ and capitalize all of the talents of our people. I have seen nearly 3,000 people at WAI this year, across the spectrum of aviation; many of them are the pioneers of women in aviation – not just pilots, but aircrew, maintenance, and air traffic controllers – to touch on only a few of the fields represented – and not just military, but civilian. These folks make up some of the most accomplished and talented people I have known.
At venues such as WAI, we build the right networks, help develop our people professionally, and establish effective mentoring opportunities between our Senior Leaders and our young folks. This is an arena where we all stand on common, level ground and inspire one another, as well as connect in an important way. Soon, we take to the skies and return to our jobs, but with minds charged with new ideas, contacts and know-how, we will be reenergized to go and tackle new challenges and reach new levels of impact.