All-female team launches historic mission over Afghanistan

By on Friday, April 1st, 2011

Afghanistan: A team of female Airmen made history here March 30 when the F-15E Strike Eagles of “Dudette 07″ blazed down the runway to provide close air support for coalition and Afghan ground forces.

The two-ship formation consisted of all females, two pilots and two weapons system officers, but more importantly, it marked the first combat mission flown from Bagram to be planned, maintained and flown entirely by females.

This mission represents the first combat sortie on record to involve only female Airmen from the pilots and weapons officers to the mission planners and maintainers, said Lt. Col. Kenneth Tilley, the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing historian.

Although the call sign for the mission may have been lighthearted, the sortie was all business calling for the pilots to travel to the Kunar Valley just west of the Pakistan border in support of a large Army operation that was underway.

“I have flown with female pilots before, but this was the first time I have flown in an all female flight,” said Maj. Christine Mau, a 455th AEW executive officer. “This wasn’t a possibility when I started flying 11-years ago.”

While planning of the mission required support from women at all levels such as Capt. Kristen Wehle, the F-15 liaison officer at the combined air operations center, those involved evoked memories of legendary Women’s Army Corps pilots and others for inspiration.

“Women’s history means a celebration of the equality we have today in the military,” said Capt. Jennifer Morton, a 389th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron weapons officer. “It makes me think back and find inspiration from heroes like Col. Jeannie Flynn.”

In 1993, then 2nd Lt. Jeannie Flynn became the first female F-15E pilot. Although the Air Force permitted female pilots to enter pilot training in 1976, Lieutenant Flynn went on to become the first female fighter pilot to graduate from the U.S. Air Force Weapons School.

“Since 1993 we have had Air Force female pilots in combat positions, and because of that today I feel as a woman I can have whatever job I want,” Morton said.

While Dudette 07 was set up to as an all female mission in honor of Women’s History Month, Major Mau said inspiration for today’s Airmen aspiring to great heights can come from many different places.

“I think I get a great deal of inspiration from my grandmother (who was a mother seven kids), but many of my role models today are males,” she said.

In addition, the pilots never forget the contributions of the maintainers on the ground,
maintainers like Airmen 1st Class Casiana Curry, who enlisted Sept. 11, 2009, and enables the continued support of the warfighters on the ground.

“The four women officers represents only a portion of the women who supported this mission making it the first all female from tasking to completion combat sortie to date,” said Capt. Leigh Larkin, s 389th EFS weapons systems officer.

“I thought it was kind of cool and something that I have never seen before,” said Staff Sgt. Tamara Rhone, a 455th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief. “The women throughout time have paved the way for us today and they made it possible for us to be equal as well as respected as individuals. Females are a rare breed on the flight line. It is my hope that more females step up and join the maintenance career field.”

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