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Women’s history luncheon showcases trailblazers

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Maria Castle
  • 375th Air Mobility Public Affairs

Scott AFB held a Women’s History luncheon March 29 to showcase and honor “trailblazing women in the military,” such as retired Maj. Gen. Barbara Faulkenberry and retired Lt. Col. Barbara Bartley-Turkington.

Faulkenberry served as then 375th Airlift Wing commander from 2003-05, the first female to do so, and then also as the 18th Air Force vice commander here from 2012-14. Bartley-Turkington served as a former “Women in the Air Force” commander in Asia and Europe. She’s currently on the board of directors for several nonprofit service oriented organizations.

They both shared stories about the challenges they faced during their service, as well as how they overcame them to be successful in their careers.

Faulkenberry, who retired in 2014, said that until the late 1940’s women were told to go home after the war ended, regardless of their bravery or stellar performance. They also didn’t retain a veteran’s status for their service unless they were nurses. Women were also instructed on how to “have a feminine look” and were barred from some training.

“Women in the Army did not undergo bivouac or weapons training. Recruits were told how to apply lipstick correctly and women Marines were told their lipstick and nail polish had to match the scarlet braid on their uniform hats. Even in country during the Vietnam War, women were told to dress in skirts and pumps, rather than boots and field clothing to project a feminine image,” explained the general.

Looking feminine wasn’t the only issue for women; for some it became a choice of whether or not to have children and be able to continue to serve.

Bartley-Turkington said that “if a woman in the Air Force became pregnant, she was not allowed to remain on active duty until the 1970’s. In addition, they had to wear civilian clothes since there were no pregnancy uniforms. Women were not paid for having children. If a woman had a child but wanted to claim a room in the dorm, she had to place her child in custodianship.”

The Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that women in the military were entitled to the same family member privileges for men, including housing, medical care and commissary access.

It was also during this time that careers other than administrative and nursing began to take shape. The first woman became a flight surgeon in 1971, and women became chaplains in 1973. The Air Force then eliminated the segregated “Women in the Air Force“ program and integrated women into the regular Air Force.

The military academies started allowing women to attend, and to fly again after not being able to since World War II. In 2013, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, pushed to rescind the direct combat exclusion rule for women and eliminate all unnecessary gender-based barriers to service.

“And that’s where we are today,” Faulkenberry said. “What a trailblazing journey! But the fact that there’s no structural [organizational] barriers certainly doesn’t mean that there will be no personal challenges and hurdles you’ll have to clear. Here are suggestions to maximize your potential: don’t let failure keep you down, exploit opportunities, and look for role models or be a mentor.”

Bartley-Turkington encouraged the audience to remember how far the military has come and to recognize how many opportunities there are for women to pursue.

“It is important for women to know and acknowledge their history. Knowing where you came from helps you gauge and plan your better future.”

For Amn. Gabrielle Moore, Air Mobility Command, who’s been in the military for a year, the speakers were inspirational.

“It shocked me when they were talking about our dress and appearance, especially about how to put on lipstick,” Moore said. “I was amazed when they talked about not being allowed to put on rank higher than sergeant during World War I, or that nurses could not advance past major; that was absolutely astonishing to me, considering one day I hope to be a major. It just proves that we as a whole can get through so much and overcome so many obstacles; we just need to be heard.”

Senior Airman Sarah Lay, 375th AMW legal office and event emcee, said, “Servicewomen at Scott are part of a proud heritage of service that dates back to the very inception of our nation’s military. Throughout our history, women have answered our nation’s call to serve: from the wives who followed their husbands from battle-to-battle to the women who disguised themselves as men so they too could share the honor of combat. These women stood up for the cause by performing duties as nurses, cooks, and even soldiers and today participate in military roles once deemed impossible for women. There are many women who exemplified the courage, determination, and spirit that continues to inspire women of the base today.”