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Celebrate female Airmen during women’s history month

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- As a commander I have the privilege to lead a diverse group of Airmen that like America itself, join together to accomplish great achievements as a team. As history has proven, the monumental achievements that defined our country, whether prevailing over tyranny in the battles of World War II, or serving the cause of freedom and peace around the world today, could not be achieved without the leadership and contributions of extraordinary women.

We take the fact that our female Airmen step up to the challenge and perform the mission brilliantly almost for granted; as it is near commonplace to how we wage modern war. Yet, we should take time to reflect upon the efforts and achievements of the ordinary persons in extraordinary circumstances that rose to the occasion and overcame the setbacks of discrimination and injustices of their day. While we have largely overcome the faults of the past, it's imperative, we look back and recognize how significant these achievements were in their time and how our great country has been changed for the better.

Women stepped away from their traditional roles when the greatest generation was forced into action at the beginning of World War II. War posters of Rosie the Riveter carried the motto "We can do it!" The typewriter was replaced by a rivet gun and women stepped out of the home to become aviators, machinists and welders.

Women Airforce [sic] Service Pilots stepped up to the challenge and flew new, combat-ready aircraft from the factory to military airfields. These early female aviators tested their skills by flying heavy bombers and nimble fighters. All told these women helped deliver over 12,000 aircraft and racked up 60 million miles flown. Aviation was and still is inherently dangerous and 38 WASP pilots lost their lives over the course of the war.

So, what kind of imprint will today's female Airmen leave on our time? Today, female Airmen make up 19 percent of the total force, but their impact and contributions are far-reaching. Whether flying a combat air patrol mission, supervising maintenance operations, or operating on the wounded, female Airmen are a critical part of our team. They are making a difference on a grand scale, one person at a time. Like Senior Master Sergeant Elizabeth Melahn of the 2d Logistics Readiness Squadron is proof of American compassion. You'll recall from a previous article she took action when she realized that women in a local Afghan village were freezing through the night and organized an effort to purchase 1,500 liters of heating fuel. This simple act of kindness strengthened ties between villagers and Americans and single-handedly de-bunked the empty anti-American rhetoric of the Taliban.

When observing this month it's easy to focus on the women who were the "firsts"; first astronaut, first squadron commander, first thunderbird pilot and so-forth. The more profound message is that in a relatively brief time span women now comprise a key component of our nation's fighting force and continue to make a huge difference at home, abroad and in the great and honorable service to our nation; one person at a time.

Please join me in celebrating Women's History Month.