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Breaking Barriers; Fixing Aircraft

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Brieana E. Bolfing
  • 35th FW/PA

Women have served in the military in various capacities for more than 200 years. According to the Department of Defense, women made up 1% of the U.S. military services in 1971. As of Oct. 2022, that number has increased to 18%, with the Air Force leading the branches at 21%.

Women's History Month started in 1987, when Congress expanded national Women's History Week. It honors the stalwart women throughout history who have broken through barriers. These individuals paved the way, allowing the next generations to serve with more significant numbers in combat roles and leadership positions worldwide.

"We must recognize how far we've come and how far we still need to go regarding women's rights as a society," said Tech. Sgt. Cindy Guillen, 13th Fighter Generation Squadron weapons expediter. "It has yet to all make it into our history books. And it's important to me because I know growing up, I didn't see many women or people that look like me in positions that I wanted to one day fill. It isn't easy to envision yourself in a position that you can't visualize yourself in.

"Although I can't change the past, I must try to pave the way for our newer generations of women, so our daughters have the opportunities to visualize themselves in those positions, because they do belong."

Inspiring and breaking barriers is nothing new for the Air Force and the women who serve in it. Approximately 350,000 women served in the U.S. military during World War II alone, putting their lives on the line and some even making the ultimate sacrifice.

Despite this significant influence throughout centuries of American history, women in the military continue to make strides and fill critical roles. A recent example of such an achievement is the Department of Defense's 2013 decision to lift the long-standing ban on women serving in military combat roles, promoting equality within the services.

"It is a celebration of all women, not only those we know have done great things but also for me, my family, my coworkers, and my friends," said Capt. Noraliz Rodriguez-Alicea, 14th Fighter Generation Squadron sortie support flight commander. "This is our month, and we recognize that we have come a long way to have the rights and careers that we were not allowed to have before.

"It's great to see how far we have come, because at one point, we could not officially serve in the military. Now, we are filling all the different positions and roles within it. Even though we are still the minority and as we go up in ranks in our career fields, the fewer females we tend to see. It's great to see how much we have changed and how people understand more of the challenges that women have gone through to do the same jobs that others have been doing.”

Throughout history, women have played a significant role in building America into the nation it is. While we highlight some of them yearly, many still need to be given the recognition they deserve.

 Some names are forgotten, but the results of their efforts are evident in our lives every day. They made vast contributions to help settle this nation, performing their jobs, raising families, helping communities, and breaking gender stereotypes.

"I can't minimize the amazing women who have influenced me and my career field to one individual," said Guillen. "All the women I've encountered throughout my time in the Air Force have taught me not just how to be a maintainer but how to be a good person. When I was a younger airman, I used to focus a lot on being a good maintainer.

"I would hear statements such as, 'You're a good maintainer for being a female.' I've heard that multiple times throughout my career, but those women who mentored me allowed me to feel that I'm not just good at my job as a female; I'm good at my job because I'm a good maintainer, period. They've empowered me to believe that about myself."

Guillen and Rodriguez-Alicea, along with their fellow wing-women, spend most of their daily time tracking, managing, and scheduling inspections, working on jets, loading weapons, and managerial duties that keep the unit running. As Airmen, they help play a role in accomplishing the mission and contributing to the greatest Air Force in the world.

"Don't ever limit yourself. Somebody can break these barriers if you focus and eliminate the noise around you," said Guillen. "If you take the time to do that and set goals, you are more likely to meet them."

Inspired by those who broke barriers before them, female Airmen, specifically those from within the maintenance career field, are no strangers to hard work. They push past the supposed drawbacks, ensuring the sky is the limit. As living proof that every day is a new opportunity to excel, these Airmen—male and female alike—work hard together to accomplish their mission.

As women continue to take on even greater responsibilities and challenges within the military, it is only appropriate that the Air Force celebrate those women, especially those who have set a standard in every conflict since the Revolutionary War.

"Just because you can't see it or it affects you every day doesn't mean it's not out there," explained Guillen. "It is still affecting everyone. These barriers affect our sisters, mothers, and daughters every day. We should be attacking discrimination and celebrating our accomplishments together. We are one team, and all need one another to accomplish our mission."

From combat pilots to explosive ordnance disposal technicians to battlefield Airmen, women have proven their capabilities as leaders and demonstrated their importance to the mission. With the support of those around them and those who came before, modern American women like Rodriguez-Alicea and Guillen show that gender barriers mean nothing compared to our continued attempts to maintain 'excellence in all we do.'