Women: Making advancements for tomorrow

COLUMBUS AFB, Miss. -- During the month of March, which is designated as Women's History Month, many women throughout history are memorialized.

However, many of the contributions that women make in the Air Force should be recognized every day and not just for a single month of the year.

In 1948, the Air Force developed a program entitled Women in the Air Force which brought women into limited roles in the Air Force. President Harry Truman signed the Women's Armed Services Integration Act allowing women to serve directly in the military.

Staff Sgt. Esther McGowin Blake was the first woman in the Air Force after enlisting in 1948. Capt. Barbara Wilson was the first enlisted WAF to become an officer through Officer Training School. President Lyndon Johnson signed a law which lifted the grade restrictions on women in the military in 1967. By 1976, women were accepted to the military on the same basis as men and the WAF's separate status was abolished. The United States Air Force Academy began to train female pilots that same year.

In 1960, Chief Master Sgt. Grace Peterson became the first female chief master sergeant. At the time of promotion, Peterson was the first sergeant of a 400-person WAF squadron at McGuire AFB, N.J.

Although, no female Airman has made it to the rank of four-star general, many have reached general status.

Major Gen. Jeanne Holm was the first female general in the Air Force. She was promoted to the grade of brigadier general in July 1971. She was promoted to the grade of major general in 1973, and is the first woman in the Armed Forces to serve in that grade. General Holm was also the first woman to attend the Air Command and Staff School at Maxwell AFB, Ala.

General Holm was appointed director, Women in the Air Force, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, Personnel, in November 1965. She was extended in that position twice, where she was responsible for overall staff cognizance of and advice on matters concerning military women in the Air Force. During her tenure, policies affecting women were updated, WAF strength more than doubled, job and assignment opportunities greatly expanded and female uniforms modernized. She has been an active exponent for expanding the opportunities for women to serve in the Armed Forces and a catalyst for changing their roles and career opportunities within the Air Force.

General Holm opened the door for other females to obtain the rank of general.

With the landmark opportunities that Chief Master Sgt. Peterson and General Holm set for women, it is now possible for women to advance in the Air Force.

Over the past 30 years, female Airmen have made tremendous advancements. The Air Force has seen the first female test pilot, first Basic Military Training Instructors, first female space shuttle commander, first female Thunderbird pilot and the first female sniper school graduate. In another 30 years, there is no telling what advancements females will make.

The following is a list of female firsts for the Air Force:
· First woman to cross Atlantic Ocean solo (1932), Amelia Earhart
· First woman in the Air Force (1948), Staff Sgt. Esther McGowin Blake
· First woman to break the sound barrier (1953), Jacqueline Cochran
· First female chief master sergeant (1960), Chief Master Sgt. Grace Peterson
· First female promoted to general (1971), Brig. Gen. Jeanne Holm
· First female chaplain (1973), 1st Lt. Lorraine K. Potter
· First female test pilot (1974), Capt. Leslie H. Kenne
· Women become Basic Military Training Instructors (1975)
· First female Air Force Academy cadet (1976), Joan Olsen
· First women (10) graduate Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training, Williams Air Force Base, Ariz. (1977)
· First Hispanic female graduates AF Academy (1980), Linda Garcia Cubero
· First secretary of the Air Force (1993), Sheila Widnall
· First female to fly combat missions (1995), Capt. Martha McSally
· First female space shuttle commander (1999), Col. Eileen Collins
· First female sniper school graduate (2001), Senior Airman Jennifer Donaldson
· First female Aerial Gunner (2003), Airman 1st Class Vanessa Dobos
· First female Thunderbird pilot (2006), Capt. Nicole Malachowski