First female in four decades of service joins Air Force

Senior Airman Cassandra Hickman, 22nd Airlift Squadron C-5 Galaxy loadmaster, stands in front of a C-5 at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., March 20, 2017. Hickman was the first female in her family to join the military. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sam Salopek)

Senior Airman Cassandra Hickman, 22nd Airlift Squadron C-5 Galaxy loadmaster, stands in front of a C-5 at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., March 20, 2017. Hickman was the first female in her family to join the military. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sam Salopek)

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif.  -- The cargo pallet glides smoothly down the flight deck into place. She moves through the compartment confidently, inspecting each pallet as she circles. Before the aircraft jets off to foreign lands, she verifies proper weight distribution, cargo placement and that the pallets are secured. During flight, she ensures the comfort of passengers and safety of the crew.

For Senior Airman Cassandra Hickman, 22nd Airlift Squadron C-5M Super Galaxy loadmaster, the Air Force was the pivotal piece for her achieving her dream of global travel. 

“Man, loading planes, that sounded kind of boring, but I found out it is actually really cool,” said Hickman. “Not everybody gets the opportunity to go to the places we go.”

She has flown on missions to Japan, Republic of Korea, Hawaii, Guam, Australia, Spain, England, Germany and almost everywhere the Air Force goes in the Middle East, said Hickman.

As Hickman neared the end of her high school experience, she examined her opportunities. Being a part of a family where there were four generations of service members, she was interested in the exciting prospect of the Air Force. 

“I wanted to serve my country,” said Hickman. “All the males in my family have been in the service. I was the first woman from my family to be in the military and my sister shortly followed.”

Working as a loadmaster opened a door of possibilities, but it was not an easy road.

Being a loadmaster is a manual job, said Hickman. On each mission, it is either pushing pallets or winching up vehicles.

It takes time to get the experience needed to be confident when there is not an instructor watching all the time, said Hickman.

“It took me a while to gain my confidence because you fly with other loadmasters that have been doing it for years,” said Hickman. “They can look at a piece of cargo and say ‘that’s messed up, we can’t take it,’ where I had to really look for it.”

Hickman did not stop at simply accomplishing her basic level of confidence in her training and tasks, she excelled.

“She completed a demanding training pipeline that comprise basic aircrew fundamentals, basic loadmaster course, C-5 loadmaster initial qualification course, water survival, and survival, evasion, resistance and escape training,” said Master Sgt. John Glisson, 22nd AS command support staff flight chief. “All courses have a minimum passing score of 85 percent. Senior Airman Hickman graduated with a 97 percent average.”

Her level of commitment to achieving excellence did not stop in training, but was attached to her modest character in accomplishing the larger mission.

During a recent mission, she identified an ill soldier who was in and out of consciousness, said Glisson. Hickman immediately provided assistance, allowing the crew to coordinate an emergency divert and ground medical response. 

It is not an individual’s gender, but their knowledge that makes them a value to the mission, said Glisson.

“One of my first experiences with Senior Airman Hickman was flying a Pacific channel mission from here to Japan,” said Glisson. “I was a recent cross trainee and in upgrade training at the time. She was a new airman 1st class, but her knowledge of operations and the C-5 was impressive.”

“Since there are not many females in my squadron, you have to prove that you’re equal to the men as far as the workload goes,” said Hickman. “It’s really not different being a female. I get treated equally.”

The back ramp opens, revealing a new location and a new adventure. Hickman monitors the successful offload of the cargo she diligently packed and secured. Stepping off the aircraft, she said she is overcome with a sense of anticipation offered from the vast unknown.