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Military Women Who Inspire

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Growing up, I never felt limited in what I could accomplish because I was a girl, but the more I dive into history I wonder why I didn’t see the challenges that were all around me. I am not sure if it was my childhood where my dad pushed me to dream big and reach for the stars. At the time, my dream was to be a doctor, but as I grew I realized the medical field wasn’t for me, but I didn’t know where that led me. Then I started looking into military service, and despite there being very few women in the Reserve Officer Training Corps detachment, the first officer I met in the military was a woman. 

I never really reflected on how important that first interaction was. When I was the only female in the ROTC unit who had graduated from field training (officer version of basic training) I never doubted if I should be there because I knew women who served and she set me on my journey to military service. 

But that isn’t always the case. For the rest of my time in ROTC the leadership was all male and the torch was passed to me to help mentor and lead the next generation of female cadets. I was happy to blaze a trail and open the door for the next generation of cadets. Maybe that is why the stories that I have only learned in the last five years since starting the Women of the Military podcast fascinate me. 

I can relate to the story and I can pull things they learned, shared or overcame in my own journey. It also reminds me I am not alone in my struggles. Struggles I still sometimes find myself still fighting today. So, I wanted to share some of the stories of amazing military women who have inspired me and why I think it is so important to highlight the stories of women. 

Nicole Malachowski – First female Thunderbird Pilot

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Nicole Malachowski, 333rd Fighter Squadron commander, reviews aircraft logs during a pre-flight inspection on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., May 8, 2013. Aircrew members review logs prior to flying to ensure the aircraft is ready for flight. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class John Nieves Camacho/Released)

When I talked to Nicole for the first time the thing that surprised me the most was the immense pressure she felt when she learned she would be the first woman Thunderbird pilot. Graduating from the Air Force Academy in 1996, and being selected as a fighter pilot she didn’t think she would break any glass ceilings in her career. Only after she applied and was selected did she realize she was the first woman to fill the position. She felt an immense responsibility to not screw it up. She wanted to make sure if she walked through the door it was open for the next person to follow her. 

Elizebeth Friedman – Code Breaker WWII

Elizebeth Friedman photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters

It was an accident that I learned about Elizebeth’s story. There was a two-for-one sale on audible and I decided to listen to The Woman Who Smashed Codes. I had no idea I would stumble upon such an amazing story and an amazing lady. Not only did she learn to break codes and was an invaluable tool during WWII in South America, she was also a working mother who despite the times found a way to keep working and follow her passion. 

Nancy Love – Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) leader

Nancy Love

I first learned about the WASP when I interviewed Erin Miller and read her book Final Fight, Final Flight. Her grandmother was a WASP and after her grandmother died their family had to fight to allow her to be inurned at Arlington. Thus began my fascination with the WASP. I learned more about their history and the women who led the WASP in The Women with Silver Wings where I learned about Nancy Love and all she did to help create and run the WASP program. Her quiet confidence and continual hard work behind the scenes reminded me a lot of myself and I loved hearing her story. 

Grace Hopper – Pioneer in Computer Programming

Quote graphic from Rear Adm. Grace Hopper used for All Hands social media Wednesday Wisdom.

I learned about Grace’s story when I interviewed Esther Massimini when she talked about her experience of working in tech during the 1980s. One woman who inspired Esther was Grace Hopper. Esther talked about how few women were in the tech career field in the 80s but Grace began her career in computers in 1944. She worked helping to create a computer and was a believer that code could be written in an English language. She did so much for the world of computers and few people know not only her story but her name. 

And while pulling the stories of these fantastic military women from history I remembered so many other women who have served or broken down barriers to allow the next generation of women to go even farther. I didn’t realize growing up how important these women were and how many women worked to change the world to give me the opportunity to do the work I did in the Air Force and continue to do today. 

Read More From Sandboxx

Feature photo U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Nicole Malachowski, 333rd Fighter Squadron out-going commander, passes the guidon to Col. Michael Koscheski, 4th Operations Group commander, during a change of command ceremony at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., May 17, 2013. Malachowski is departing to attend the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class John Nieves Camacho/Released)

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Amanda Huffman