Women in the Air Force - Then and Now

  • Published
  • By Col. Nancy August
  • 180th Fighter Wing
Col. Bartman graciously offered the July Commander's comments opportunity to me - thinking that after 40 years, ten months and 29 days and approaching retirement that I would have some wisdom to share with the Wing. Well - I can offer a "historical" perspective! I am going to discuss two areas briefly: Basic Training and jobs from two perspectives: the Sixties and today. 

Basic training in The Sixties
- Six weeks in length
- Two general themes characterized the thrust of the women's programs in this era.     
  The first was a commitment to the concept of 'elitism' manifested by double standards  
  in recruitment, assignments and other policies. The second was an almost obsessive 
  emphasis on preserving femininity and a "ladylike image". 
- Quality not quantity
- The wake up call was as follows "It is 0500 hrs and you will get up, you will smell 
  sweet and you will wear lipstick"
- Make up classes - WAF  - lipstick and nail polish should be a natural shade.
- No fatigues - BDUs 
- No firing range - no  weapon familiarization courses or fire small arms 
 - No obstacle course - which we wanted to run in the worst way - just to fall in the mud! 

In 1964 the Marine Corps Commandant planned a small increase in the Women's Marine Program. Women Marines must always be the smallest group of women in the military service. Must be the most attractive and useful women in the four line services. There is room for none but the truly elite. Two years later the AF Chief of Staff admonished the commander of recruiting service to get "better looking WAF." Physical appearance became the main selection criteria. Each applicant was required to pose for four photographs: front, side, back and full-face. Civil rights leaders assumed this was to determine race, not the case, it was a beauty contest! Mind you it was 1967 - mini skirts were in. The dress I wore for the photos was so short my father wouldn't let me wear it to a wedding dance, but I took it when I went for my appointment with the USAF in Minneapolis! And I still got in...no idea at the time what the reason was for the photos - didn't occur to me to ask - but I wonder where all that stuff is today?? Hopefully my father never saw them! 

Basic Training Today
- Eight weeks in length
- Co-ed training/separate dormitories
- Dorm Guard awakens or Training Instructors came in and used trash can lids to 
  awaken at 0400 hrs for Reveille
- PT a.m. til 0530 hrs
- Breakfast followed by classes
- Lights out at 2100 hrs
- In the field for 6 days "Warrior Week"
- Run everywhere, wingman
- Obstacle Course
- Weapons training and firing 

Jobs - The Sixties
America's servicewomen were no longer found in the challenging technical jobs (taxiing aircraft, aerial gunnery, repairing engines); these positions were closed to them, deemed "unsuitable for ladies." By 1965, enlisted women could only be found in 36 of the 61 noncombat positions out of all the services. Nearly 70% were in clerical and administrative positions, 23% were in medical facilities. 

The opportunities were also limited for female officers. Of 46 noncombat officer occupational areas, women could only work in 35. More then 75% of women line officers were in administration, personnel, information, and similar desk jobs. 

President Lyndon B. Johnson on 8 Nov 67 signed Public Law 90-130, which removed restrictions on the careers of female officers in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, and for other purposes. As he signed the law he said, "There is no reason why we should not some day have a female Chief of Staff or even a female Commander-in-Chief." 

1968 - AF opened career fields and overseas assignments to women 

1970-72 jobs opened except those beyond the physical capability and those closed because of combat restrictions 

- Women are thoroughly  integrated into combat support roles and the services depend  
  upon the capabilities of women.
- Women command Naval Air Stations, operational flying Wings, Army hospital, Co-
  pilots  the space shuttle, command the space shuttle, command a Navy warship at 
  sea, assigned to carriers
- Full participants in the · Global War on Terror
- To date, servicewomen · are still restricted from serving in para-rescue, combat 

There is an old saying by Alphonse Karr - "The more things change, the more they stay the same." Times have changed significantly from The Sixties until today all across the military, especially since 9/11. Thanks to all of you, who in your own way, have contributed to the freedom of this country and set the foundation for the future for men and women serving militarily.

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