Women’s History Month: Telling HER-story!

  • Published
  • By By Senior Airman Michella Stowers
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

– History is constantly being written by amazing men and women who step outside expectations to accomplish feats greater than themselves. Women's History Month is dedicated to the women who did just that.

Women were once thought of as the inferior gender, and it was believed that a woman's place was in the home. Change began with women like Loretta Walsh, who, in 1917, was the first woman to enlist in the military, and Esther McGowin Blake, who enlisted on the first minute of the first day women could join the Air Force in 1948.

These women, like many who followed in their footsteps, shattered stereotypes, broke molds, set new standards and proved that anything a man could do, women could too.

Fortunately, Airmen at Ellsworth Air Force Base don't have to look far for inspirational female figures. Trena Schmidt, Karen Howe and Sandra Horsman are all Air Force veterans who live within an hour of the base.

These three ladies shared their stories about how they overcame obstacles in the Air Force.

“I came from a small town in Tennessee on a farm and I always wanted to serve my country. I wanted to do something bigger than what my little town had to offer,” said Schmidt, a former aircraft structural maintainer and weapons loader who served from 1987 to 2009. “In Korea, I was the only female weapons loader, but I was a tomboy growing up, so I didn't mind it. A lot of times they would make comments, I just made comments back and rolled with the punches and I never had a problem or an issue.”

As recent as the 1980s, some still believed the military was no place for women. At that time, females were challenging this notion and endeavoring to be considered equal to their male counterparts.

“A lot of men didn't like working with females. [They] didn't think we were capable, but I was.” Schmidt said. “I had to prove myself a lot of times. It seemed like I had to work twice as hard as the men to prove myself, but after some time, I did.”

Horsman, a weapons loader on the F-4 Phantom who served from 1981 to 1985, also strived to show her worth through her diligent work ethic.

“I would come in and there would be doubt about whether I was able to do what I needed to do, but once I proved myself, I was treated as an equal and a peer,” Horsman said. “I always felt like my fellow Airmen were always watching out for me. I didn't have any brothers at home, but I had a lot there.”

Howe, who served as a personnelist from 1982 to 2002, had a different experience because her career field was not generally male-dominated. Even so, she said there were high standards that needed to be met.

“You had a job to do and were expected to do it,” stated Howe about the expectations of her fellow service members.  “Put the airplanes in the air, [and] get the people prepared to do that job.”

Since these three ladies joined the Air Force, the service has made several changes allowing for the advancement of women. In 1986, an all-female Minuteman missile crew conducted alert duty for the first time. Another breakthrough was in 1994, when Col. Jeanine Leavitt became the first female fighter pilot in the Air Force.  More recently, in 2016, all military occupations were opened to women without exception. This meant that no matter the job, if a service member met the physical and mental requirements, gender was no longer an issue.

The U.S. Armed Forces has come a long way from when women were first allowed to enlist, and to this day, more progress is waiting to be made by groundbreaking women.

For young women seeking a career in the Air Force, Howe advocates for them to aim high.

“If you want to join the Air Force, take everything they give you as an opportunity and do the best you can do,” she encouraged.