Team McChord honors women with all-female mission

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Tryphena Mayhugh
  • 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- With March being Women’s History Month, it is important to recognize how the role of women in the military has dramatically changed over the years. During the 18th and 19th centuries, women were confined to serving as cooks, seamstresses and nurses. The formation of the Women’s Army Corps in 1941 expanded women’s roles, but women weren’t integrated into the military until 1978, and even then, they weren’t allowed to serve in combat. It wasn’t until 2016 that all combat jobs were opened to women.

Team McChord Airmen came together to complete an all-female flight training mission on a C-17 Globemaster III Dec. 14, 2020, to honor and highlight women in the U.S. Air Force. From the Port Dawgs who loaded the aircraft, maintenance and logistics who prepared the jet for takeoff, to the pilots and loadmasters who flew the training mission, every Airman involved was female.

“I was excited to be a crewmember on an all-female crew,” said Col. Erin Staine-Pyne, 62nd Airlift Wing commander, who participated in the all-female mission. “After more than 20 years of flying, it was the first time I’ve flown with all women. In fact, I’m usually the only female on a crew.”

As of January 2020, women make up 21 percent of all Air Force members, with only 806 of them serving as pilots.

“I’m incredibly proud to lead and serve the men and women of the 62nd Airlift Wing,” Staine-Pyne said. “As a female commander, I bring a different set of experiences and a different perspective, but I’d argue that my goal is the same as my male counterparts … I’m ensuring Airmen are ready to fight and their families have the support to bear the burden of service. There is nothing inherently male or female about my responsibilities.”

There are many moving parts that come together to launch aircraft and missions, with each section providing a critical role in the mission’s success.

Aerial Port

The 62nd Aerial Port Squadron organizes the movement and loading/unloading of both passengers and cargo. They are also in charge of airdrop cargo, implementing safety precautions and procedures for the handling of dangerous materials and providing supplies and meals for aircrew and passengers.

Several female aerial port Airmen were involved in the all-female mission by supplying and uploading the combat offload pallets, which are used by airlift squadrons for training purposes and to maintain qualifications.

“My duty today was the load team chief,” said Senior Airman Rebecca Frazier, 62nd APS airfreight journeyman. “I ensured not only the safety of my load team members, but the safety of the aircraft and all other assets used during the upload. The mission was executed flawlessly. There were no delays and everyone involved ensured a safe, by-the-book departure.”

Some women may feel intimidated joining the military, but it can be a fulfilling path to take.

“It is important to highlight an all-female mission for future generations so they can see that in a male-dominated career field and service, we achieve success on all levels as females,” Frazier said. “I waited until I was 25 to join the Air Force because I didn’t think I was mentally or physically strong enough. Hopefully our younger generations will see what we accomplished here today and think ‘I can do that too.’

“I’m incredibly proud to be a part of today’s mission,” she continued. “The fact that every squadron had enough females to make the mission happen today shows the direction the Air Force is headed and how females are an important part of the military.”

Maintenance, Logistics Readiness

The 62nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron services the C-17, ensures inspections are up to date and preps the jet for launch, while the 627th Logistics Readiness Squadron provides installation logistics processes related to vehicles, cargo movement, passenger movement, personal property, supplies, equipment, deployment planning and operations, fuels, munitions and logistics plans.

For the all-female mission, the maintenance Airmen prepped the aircraft for launch and ensured the faults, gear, exterior and interior of the plane were ready for the mission. The logistics readiness Airmen refueled the aircraft when it landed back at McChord Field after completing its training mission.

Maintenance can be a male-dominated career field, but for Senior Airman Caitlyn Cook, 62nd AMXS crew chief, it hasn’t been difficult and was what she wanted to do when she joined the Air Force.

“It’s like having a second family, you work with amazing people and leadership,” she said. “I wanted to do something physical and different rather than sit at a desk; to feel part of something bigger in the end game. I think women have come a long way. All the things we are capable of and can now do just show that anyone can achieve whatever they set their minds to.” 

Loadmaster

Loadmasters in the 4th, 7th and 8th Airlift Squadrons custom load aircraft before flights and are responsible for properly loading, securing and escorting cargo and passengers.

The two loadmasters involved in the all-female mission marshalled and loaded, alongside 62nd APS,  two combat offload pallets and assisted in 90-degree backings, which entails the aircraft turning at a 90-degree angle while backing up.

“I loved being a part of such a cool mission and I hope we can continue to do all-female missions like this,” said Senior Airman Olivia Suty, 8th AS loadmaster. “I can’t speak for everyone else, but the feeling I had as all us women were working was incredible. I hope everyone can experience something like this during their Air Force career.” 

Every woman in the Air Force has her own unique experience. Fortunately, for Suty, she has had a positive experience.

“The fact that I haven’t personally experienced any negativity towards being a female in the Air Force makes me think women have come such a long way, especially in the military,” she said. “We still make up a very small percentage, but we continue to grow as the years go by.”

Pilot

A McChord C-17 pilot’s ability to provide global reach has been tested daily and sometimes approaches wartime intensity. From providing relief supplies to hurricane, flood, and earthquake victims both at home and abroad to flying food and medicine to the peoples of the former Soviet Union, McChord people and assets have been engaged in almost nonstop operations since the beginning.

To maintain readiness and qualifications to continue to provide that global support, pilots from the 4th, 7th and 8th AS conduct training flights. The all-female training flight mission not only consisted of the combat offload and 90-degree backing, but also tactical arrivals and departures, patterns, landings and visual flight navigation.

“As a young co-pilot, having the opportunity to get in departure, arrival, and pattern repetitions allows me to hone in my skills and gather confidence with more real-time experience,” said 1st Lt. Madison Lohman, 7th AS pilot.

Participating in an all-female mission was a new experience for Lohman.

“It's something that still challenges people’s assumptions about traditional gender roles in the military,” she said. “Although our mission ran like any other co-ed mission I've been on, there was something so unique about having a crew comprised of all women, which never naturally happens. Fortunately, I think our Air Force has made great strides to becoming a more inclusive force, but I still think there is more that can be done.”

Mission Success

Throughout military history, women have shown they are capable of performing at the same level and above as their male counterparts in order to fight for their country and their accomplishments are celebrated each March during Women’s History Month.

At McChord Field, it took much behind-the-scenes effort and coordination to bring the all-female mission together, but the final result was a dedicated group of Airmen who utilized their expertise and skills to successfully prepare, launch and execute a training mission – who all happened to be female.

“Diversity and inclusion are not buzz words in our military,” Staine-Pyne said. “We need talented Americans to join the service. Once on our team, every Airmen needs to be at their best, they have to feel valued and empowered. That is how we will win future wars.

“I welcome the day when an all-female crew is the norm,” she continued. “Until then, an event like this is a great way to celebrate our diversity and highlight the efforts the Air Force is making to build resilient, inclusive, high-powered teams.”