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Women making a difference: past, present, future

(U.S. Air Force graphic by Senior Airman Jovan Banks)

(U.S. Air Force graphic by Senior Airman Jovan Banks)

April 1, 2016 -- As the month of March comes to an end, so too does Women's History Month.  A month reserved to celebrate the accomplishments of women around the world; accomplishments that have solidified their place in history and our ability to ensure certain rights and freedoms. Unfortunately, with the end of a particular month also comes the end of our desire to seek education about the giants whose shoulders we stand on--the individuals who paved the way in order for us to be in places that we are today. Without those women in history, I may not have had the privilege of leading in my current position as superintendent of the 509th Mission Support Group at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. 

Shortly after Brig. Gen. Paul W. Tibbets IV assumed command of the 509th Bomb Wing, he sent an email to all of the Airmen of the wing that ended with, "To remember is to honor, to honor is to value; what we value defines who we are...Uphold the legacy!" That phrase alone should inspire us to continue to learn about the people who worked hard and often times suffered hardships for us to be where we are today. My hope with this commentary is to encourage you to continue with your educational journey on leaders of our past to make you a better leader for our future.

When asked to write a commentary, my first action was to call my children. I was curious to find out what their schools were doing during this focus on women in history. I was disappointed to hear, nothing. So, because they could not provide me with a starting point, I decided to do some research on my own. This research proved very interesting and fruitful. The information is there, we just have to look for it.

In sticking with this month's theme, "Working to Form a More Perfect Union:  Honoring Women in Public Service and Government," I decided to highlight three Air Force women--past, present and future--who have and will continue to make a difference in women's history. Don't get too excited, my goal is to provide you with just enough information to peak your interest enough for you to want to find out more!

The history maker from our past I decided to highlight is Col. Oveta Culp Hobby. Hobby served as the director of the Women's Army Corps (WAC) from 1942 to 1945.  She did not begin her legacy as a military member the way we know it, either through Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC), Officer Training School (OTS), U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) or an enlisted to officer program. In 1941 she moved to Washington D.C. to work as the head of the War Department's Women's Interest Section, and in 1942 she was appointed director (with the rank of colonel) of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). She was so successful in her quest to challenge gender norms (at least for her time) that by end of her tenure 239 Army positions were filled with WAC personnel. She also earned the Distinguished Service Medal for her work as director of the WAC and went on to be appointed as the first Secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

The history maker currently serving is my friend, Chief Master Sgt. Melanie Noel. Noel, who was recently hired as the 6th Air Mobility Wing (AMW) command chief, began her military experience as a member of security forces, later retraining into the personnel career field. She also served as a first sergeant and was selected to instruct at the U.S. Air Force First Sergeant Academy, subsequently filling roles as the director of education and director operations. After a distinguished career as a first sergeant, Noel was selected as a legislative fellow to the U.S. House of Representatives, serving as the manpower, personnel and services legislative liaison and paving the way for enlisted fellows to follow. Not walking past a challenge, Noel became the senior enlisted advisor to the director of the Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office prior to being hired as the 6th AMW command chief, where she is responsible for the care and welfare of 18,800 Airmen.

The history maker of our future is Airman Ashley Kasper, from the 509th Operations Support Squadron. Kasper entered the military in March 2015 as a weather forecaster. After graduating high school, she was set to attend a private college in Pensacola, Florida. However, that summer she had a change of heart and decided the military was what she needed, and she has not looked back. She has already established herself as a leader at Whiteman, starting with the First Term Airman Center (FTAC) where she was appointed as class leaders. Her motivation comes from family and in her words, "work is a big part of our lives." Excelling at work equates to happiness, which spreads to other aspects of her life. I foresee great opportunities in her life, whether in or out of our great Air Force.

My hope is that these three can be examples to others. Examples that will help inspire the next generation of women history makers to continue working toward absolute equality, both in the service and in general.