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Editorial: We’ve come a long way since 1948, remember that this month

Esther McGowin Blake, the first woman to join the active-duty Air Force in 1948.

Staff Sgt. Esther McGowin Blake poses for an official portrait. Blake was the first woman to enlist in the active-duty Air Force in July 1948. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

First woman to join the Air Force sits with her basic training class at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, in 1948.

Esther McGowin Blake with her Women’s Army Corps basic training class in May 1944 at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. Blake became the first woman to enlist in the active-duty Air Force in July 1948. (Maxwell Air Force Base and the Air University History Office courtesy photo)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. --

We are a subgroup within a subgroup, a portion of the less than a percentage point of Americans who have answered their nation’s call and serve proudly in its defense. We are women in the United States Air Force.

Today, women make up roughly 19 percent of the enlisted force and 21 percent of its officer corps.

We are mothers, daughters, sisters and wives. We are masters of a fine balancing act: maintaining the wonder that is womanhood while bucking tradition, defying expectations and pushing limits, both external and self-imposed.

Like the men we serve alongside, we join for a number of reasons. Our motivations strengthen and evolve as our service shapes and transforms us. We pour our hearts and souls into this organization, striving to leave it better than we found it.

As the world celebrates Women’s History throughout the month of March, we will highlight the female Airmen who make Whiteman Air Force Base move. We will showcase the women who push this strategic base to mission success each and every day.

Before we begin this vital campaign, we would be remiss if we did not start by honoring our Air Force foremother and trailblazer in her own right: Esther McGowin Blake.

Blake’s eldest son was shot down while flying a B-17 and reported missing during World War II. This spurred her motivation to aid in the war effort. When her second son, also a pilot, was later shot down, her desire to do her part redoubled.

She joined the Women’s Army Corps in 1944 and was the first woman, at 51 years old, to enlist for regular Air Force active duty when the newly-founded branch authorized females to serve on July 8, 1948.

When her surviving sons, Julius and Tom, returned home from war, they learned what their mother had done. Blake’s granddaughter, Donna Hicks, said they were not surprised.

“If she could go to fight and get the war over, then she was ready to serve,” said Hicks.

Women were not allowed in combat at the time, but Blake wanted to free male soldiers from doing desk jobs so they could go into combat and bring her sons home faster, Hicks said.

For 10 years, Blake did clerical work across the country until she left the military in 1954. She never set foot on the battlefield, but she was still a war hero. Blake – and other female Airmen like her – took the first steps forward for all women who serve in the Air Force today.

In order to understand and appreciate the strides we have made and will continue to make, we reflect on brave women like Blake, finding inspiration and motivation to do our parts, paving the way for future generations.

 

March is Women’s History Month and March 8 is International Women’s Day. Be sure to grab The Warrior and check our Facebook page throughout the month to read stories and watch videos of some of Whiteman’s most amazing Airmen.