TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
Maj. Gen. Jeannie M. Leavitt, Department of the Air Force Chief of Safety visited Tinker Air Force Base March 9 to celebrate Women’s History Month.
During her visit, the general participated in the ‘Women in Leadership’ panel, toured the E-3 Sentry and met up with the all-women crew that flew their heritage flight March 10.
The panel, hosted by the Women’s Initiative Team in conjunction with The Royal Canadian Air Force Defence Women’s Advisory Organization, had three additional members; Col. Abigail Ruscetta, vice commander of the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex, Chief Master Sgt. Amber Person, career field manager for Air Force safety, and Master Warrant Officer Nicole Voyer, with the Canadian Armed Forces assigned as a mission system operator with the 963rd Airborne Air Control Squadron.
“We hear a lot about diversity and inclusion,” said Leavitt. “Diversity is far more valuable when paired with inclusion. If people don’t feel like their opinions matter and their ideas are valued, they won’t say anything. You must create an environment where people feel like they can bring their ideas forward. The way we are going to win against future adversaries is with our people and being able to out-think them with diverse viewpoints and critical thinking. It is our competitive advantage. We really need to create that environment of inclusion.”
These four leaders have challenged cultural barriers and have successfully expanded, strengthened and diversified leadership across the U.S. and Canada. The panel discussed their unique perspectives and experiences as servicewomen fighting for gender, justice, fairness and opportunity and what the impacts are in having a diverse, inclusive warfighting force.
Leavitt briefly told her own story of going through pilot training during a time when the Department of Defense still had the policy of not allowing women in combat.
Then 2nd Lt. Flynn, finished first in her class and would have her choice of aircraft but was not allowed to choose a combat-coded aircraft. She was advised not to pick a fighter plane because it would ruin her career — she would be labeled a troublemaker for asking for a plane she couldn’t have.
“I didn’t want to regret not asking for a fighter,” said Leavitt. “I was pretty scared, I’ll admit when I stood up and asked for the F-15E Strike Eagle. I was told no and they told me I was not eligible and to pick another plane, so I did. I picked the KC-10 to March Air Force Base. Sure, I was disappointed, but I didn’t have regrets because I stood up and asked for the F-15E.”
Weeks later the DOD changed their policy and Leavitt received a call. They asked her if she was serious about the fighter jet or just trying to make a point. She was serious, and now would be the first female fighter pilot, and though she didn’t want all the attention and publicity that would come with being first, she knew she was paving the way for others and decided she would be the best F-15E pilot she could be.
“The aircraft is the equalizer,” said Leavitt. “It doesn’t care if you are male or female, the only thing that matters is if you are a good pilot.”
Only 17% of active duty are women. Since the first woman enlisted in 1917, women have continued to join the ranks in increasing numbers, excelling in areas of science, technology, and math.
Celebrating women’s achievements helps educate and raise awareness for women’s equality. By creating a culture of inclusivity and respect, the Air Force can empower women to rise through the ranks, lead with integrity and defend our nation with honor.
The four women from different backgrounds and experiences all agreed they’ve faced challenges by being a woman vying for a seat at the table. They also agreed that mentorship was important. Having a trusted confidant who could tell you what you needed to hear instead of what you wanted to hear is invaluable.
Asked if she could give her younger self advice, Leavitt responded, “Believe in yourself. Be bold. Be brave. Never give up. Life is going to knock you down, but you always get back up!”