She's Got Grit: The Very Few, The Very Proud.

LtCol Jen Nothelfer. (Photo: She's Got Grit/Jen Nothelfer)

LtCol Jen Nothelfer. (Photo: She's Got Grit/Jen Nothelfer)

Jen Nothelfer's journey of leadership and grit began when she joined the Navy to prove she could when a boyfriend after college said she'd never get a flight assignment because she was a woman. After graduating college in her home state of Virginiawith a degree in business and paralegal work, she’d hoped to become a lawyer, but bombed the LSAT. A girlfriend suggested they train as flight attendants, so she flew for two years, taking the jump seat every time she could. 

Her boyfriend's comment changed everything. “He obviously didn’t know me,” she says. “That comment lit a fire in my belly.”

She started taking flight lessons at home, and when she went out flying with a friend, “I knew I had to do this.” Since Nothelfer was pursuing a flight contract in 1995, just two years after the lifting of combat exclusion, there were few women preceding her in the world of Naval aviation. When she first visited a recruiter, they offered her a supply position.

“I told them they could stuff that where the sun don’t shine,” she says.

She made her way to the Naval OCS and flight school, though due to a blown ACL from her soccer days she had to fight all the way to the Pentagon to get a flight slot. She finally landed in the Marine Corps flying the CH-46. 

Though she was a team player, things did not go smoothly. In OCS, just before meeting her husband, she was sexually assaulted by another student. 

Marine officer and pilot Jen Nothelfer on her CH-46E (Photo: She's Got Grit/Jen Nothelfer)

Marine officer and pilot Jen Nothelfer on her CH-46E (Photo: She's Got Grit/Jen Nothelfer)

“I never reported it. I just covered it up and put it away for the longest time,” she said. "I just wanted to get through flight school and get my wings."

One of the saving graces of her career was a small group of women she has known through her time in the military. 

“I had Navy and Marine aviator girlfriends,” she says. They helped her keep it real.

Early on at the fleet replacement squadron when Nothelfer was learning to fly the CH-46, she and another female officer went to the Officer’s Club (The O Club). 

“There were only three or four of us women in aviation slots on base,” she says. “I went to the bathroom partway through the evening. When I walked in I thought I’d gone into the wrong head. In the powder room there was a commander of one of the other squadrons, who was very married, and two other officers I didn’t know. Three of the waitresses were straddling them.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot! I had to figure out what I was going to do, but I really had to pee. So I just said “hi there,” and walked back to the stalls. When I left I walked straight out of the club and drove home. I shouldn’t have been driving. But that’s when I knew how things were going to be. That event tainted my views of how squadron life was going to be. I looked at that and thought, 'You can choose to be better.' " 

As reality set in about the environment, Nothelfer made her way. 

They all have grit: Nothelfer's female colleagues helped her through the hardest times in the Marines. To her left, Jennifer Merrill. Right, Suzanne Krauss. (Photo: She's Got Grit/Jen Nothelfer)

They all have grit: Nothelfer's female colleagues helped her through the hardest times in the Marines. To her left, Jennifer Merrill. Right, Suzanne Krauss. (Photo: She's Got Grit/Jen Nothelfer)

"There was a woman in front of me at the fleet replacement squadron who performed poorly," she said. "When I came through, everyone judged me by how she had performed. I had a bad FAMO (the ground check ride) with an instructor who was trying to get at me, and I walked away from that finally understanding. That's never going to happen again. No one will ever have a reason to doubt me. I studied like a crazy person. Some of the guys started getting pissed off because I'd do so well. 

When I got to my first squadron, they scheduled me for a flight-- you might as well have called it a check ride. They were putting me through the ringer. I went out and I nailed it. I must have had the biggest grin on my face. There was still a lot of crap, but that set the tone for me as an aviator."

Overall, her first squadron experience was positive. “I’m still friends with my first commander and sergeant major,” she says. "They have had a lifelong impact on both leadership and values for me."

She wouldn’t be friends with everyone.

"That was one of my hardest decisions. Realizing not everyone would like me. I have a strong personality.  Driven, demanding, but insanely loyal.  Not everyone saw that.  I also covered myself with fairly thick armor – it was my way to survive.”

“You know what it’s like,” she tells me, and I do. “You get in that cockpit and know you’d better do better, fly better than anyone around you. You’re just waiting for someone to pull the rug out from under you. And then you worry about that other shit too.

You survive because you put that armor on. It doesn’t let anything in, but it doesn’t let anything out, either.”

If she were talking to herself as a new lieutenant, I’d say “Be true to yourself. Don’t try to put on someone else’s armor. It’s ok to be who you are. You’ll find your people…wait for them.”

Then Nothelfer hurt her back.

Grit in action: USMC officer and pilot Jen Nothelfer on mission. (Photo: She's Got Grit/Jen Nothelfer)

Grit in action: USMC officer and pilot Jen Nothelfer on mission. (Photo: She's Got Grit/Jen Nothelfer)

“I was about to fly a mission with ten Marines in the back a few months before deployment. During preflight, I couldn’t feel my hands. I couldn’t feel my arms all the way up to my armpits.”

Alarmed, she told her copilot she wouldn’t be able to fly. She went back to fight operations and to her state room.

She heard the commanding officer coming down the hall long before he arrived at her room. “He was a woman hater,” she says. “He started banging on my door,” she said. “I opened it, and he said: ‘Get your shit on and get out to that bird.’

I told him I couldn’t feel my arms, and he repeated himself, more loudly: ‘Get your shit on and get out to that bird!’

I went to the flight surgeon. He sent me directly to the ER where they shot lidocaine straight into my back.”

That wasn’t the end of it, though. Nothelfer was pulled from the deployment.

“That was the lowest point of my career,” she said. “Having to go back on that ship and get my gear and walk off again was devastating.”

It was not the end of harassment. When a fellow woman officer discovered she was pregnant before a deployment, Nothelfer found herself standing at attention in front of the Group Commander. 

"When are you going to tell me you're pregnant, too?" he yelled.

Then there were the briefings when the commanding officer repeatedly referred to the "gents," despite the several women in the room.

At one briefing for a mission in Mogadishu, she'd had enough. 

"I guess this isn't a briefing for me," she said, and walked out.

The softer side of grit: USMC officer Nothelfer with her twin daughters Bridget, left, and Alexis (Photo: She's Got Grit/Jen Nothelfer)

The softer side of grit: USMC officer Nothelfer with her twin daughters Bridget, left, and Alexis (Photo: She's Got Grit/Jen Nothelfer)

With respect to challenges, Nothelfer says “They made me who I am. I’ve moved past them. But if I see something today that doesn’t look right, smell right, watch out.”

What would Nothelfer tell a new leader today? "Stay true to your course. Work hard, play hard, and always give 100%." 

Nothelfer is proud of her career. “I’m proud of being one of the first women to fly in the Marines, and proud for sticking around,” she says. "I started to develop an internal dialogue: I can't quit. I still believe I am doing good for the mission and good for the Corps. I think there's some purpose for the pain and suffering."

When I ask why she stuck it out in the face of the constant harassment, she mentions her three daughters. “What kind of example would I set if I just left?” she asked. “I hope I might have made a difference for at least one person over my career. Maybe I've even changed the mind of one of these dinosaurs who are still around.”

Her most memorable experience recently came when she was asked to assist at the opening of the National Museum of the Marine Corps. "I was asked to accompany the family of Corporal Jason Dunham who would be awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously," she says, and her voice breaks. She takes a moment to recover. "It was such an honor, such an incredible honor."

As for grit, Nothelfer clearly has it. "Grit is unstoppable determination," she says. 

Now Nothelfer works as a Marine Recruiting Support officer in the Reserves. Her husband is retiring after a full career on active duty next year.

With all she faced each day, “I feel so loyal to the Marines,” Nothelfer says. "For all the challenges, they are still my people."

Source: http://aborderlife.com/grit-project-blog/s...

Letters From Arthur #33: 19 Feb 1945, Leyte

by Jess Clackum

The 1st Cavalry fighting in the streets of Manila. (Photo: WWII Archives)

The 1st Cavalry fighting in the streets of Manila. (Photo: WWII Archives)

One of the most significant battles in the Philippine campaign of 1944-45 was the Battle of Manila which took place 3 February to 3 March 1945. American and Filipino Armies joined forces against the Japanese in a bloody battle which ended with complete devastation of Manila and the deaths of over 100,000 civilians. It was the most horrific urban fighting in the Pacific campaign. The Japanese were forced out after three years of military occupation in the Philippines. It was the key to General MacArthur's campaign to reconquer the islands.
 

Dear May & Bill,

Hope you are receiving my mail. I received your last letter several days ago and always as before I was indeed glad to hear from you.

The weather here isn't too bad now especially nites. The cold air of the Pacific blows right up into the Beach, causing such ideal cool nights, but days are still very hot. Received your packages, thanks lots. It arrived quite in tact and the fruitcake was delicious.

How long do you reckon the war will last? Sometimes I keep wondering. Believe me I count the days I'm away from you all. Hope Bill found it easy to become a civilian once again. I think I won't find it hard, since I've got my heart set on it.

Take care of yourselves. Love to Joanie!

Your Devoted Brother

Arthur

Excerpt of a documentary on the Battle of Manila...

Letters From Arthur #32: 2 Feb 1945, Leyte

by Jess Clackum

M4 Sherman Tanks Fight the Japanese At Subic Bay, Philippines February 1945 (Photo: WWII Archives)

M4 Sherman Tanks Fight the Japanese At Subic Bay, Philippines February 1945 (Photo: WWII Archives)

On 3 February, the Battle of Manila would commence. It was a major battle of the 1944-45 Philippine campaign with an alliance of American and Filipino forces. The battle would last one month and result in a complete devastation of the city as well as the deaths of over 100,000 civilians. It was the worst urban fighting in the Pacific theatre. The Battle of Manila put an end to the three-year Japanese occupation of the Philippines.

 

Dear May & Bill,

These past few weeks I've been busy covering a lot of ground. The papers state that the Island is secure. Hardly think so, especially with we having to mop up here and there.

Bill asked me if I was a Rifleman, no Bill I am in with the Communications of this Battalion, which takes me into the front lines at all times. I'm equipped with a carbine for protection and believe me I've escaped death quite a few times. When I return home I shall show you all sorts of Jap souvenirs I've gone after and gotten.

May dear, a few moments ago I received your Christmas package. The most ideal gift and the best I've received.  so far for the holiday. Believe me, May, your packages have always been the best of choice.

Everything I found in them were delicious and now the toilet articles are just what I needed, it's darn hard to get them here in this God forsaken primitive country. Thanks a thousand times for your kindness I appreciate it from the very depths of my heart.

Gosh I'm looking forward with so much enthusiasm to our re-union when I return home I've so much to say to you May and Bill. I can hardly wait. A rarity happened to me couple of hours ago. Here in our improvised chapel, two Filipino sisters were here, one used to be a nightclub singer in one of the Cabarets in Manila before the war. Since then she and her family were chased over the Mountains here they are finally, in rags, and so very shabby. She showed me photographs taken during her success in Manila. She looked beautiful. All gowned up in sequins and fine jewelry. But all that was beautiful vanished when the Japs came. She still is a beautiful creature. I felt if there was a way I could get some unneeded clothes from the States I'd like them sent to her. So I gave her my Army address and told her to write me if and when she had a definite address so I'd write to people in the states to send it to her.

I'm doing this only for having the inclination to help someone who has fallen into the wayside. I'm sure you can understand how I feel about those that are down trodden. Surely these people haven't known the poverty for ages. A pal of mine here knows of this intention and he believes I'm becoming too God fearing. Perhaps he's right. Life here in the Pacific at times seems so short, why not know a little fullness?

Well May & Bill, thanks again for your keen Xmas gift it was alright. Best of love to Joan. My very best to you both. I shall write shortly again.

Best of luck

Your Devoted Brother

Arthur

WASP Rosa Lea Meek Dickerson Defied Convention and Social Norms To Pursue Her Dreams.

by Logan Walker

Young Rosa Lea in her WASP days.

Young Rosa Lea in her WASP days.

Rosa Lea Fullwood Meek Dickerson’s life in flight began before she could even walk. As she told the story, her plane enthusiast parents wasted no time in taking their 3-month-old daughter on a tour of the skies above her hometown. The outing elicited unabashed adoration from Rosa Lea and censure from many of Fullwood’s neighbors, who, largely uninformed about planes and piloting, lectured Rosa Lea’s mother that “(her baby) could have lost (her) breath and how dare she expose her child.” It’s perhaps a fitting origin story for a woman who would become one of the most experienced and deftly talented pilots to join the ranks of the WASP, and one who would face disapproval and a lack of acceptance more than once in her life because of her bold choices.

Born in Hereford, Texas on March 20, 1922 to Walter “Pop” Fullwood and his wife Buna, Rosa Lea was two years old when her “pioneer pilot” father moved the family to the city of McAllen and started a flight school. A deadly mishap involving a flight instructor would cause the school to close in due time, but Pop Fullwood continued to work as a plane mechanic and taught his children much about aircraft as they grew up. At the precocious age of 12, Rosa Lea began learning to fly in a Challenger Robin; not more than 80 pounds, she resorted to stuffing cushions around her seat at the helm of the large, mono wing plane.

After graduating from McAllen High School in May 1939, Rosa Lea had plans to pursue a career in aviation as a flight instructor, but the start of America’s involvement WWII called her in a slightly different direction. As an already well-versed pilot, Rosa Lea was highly sought after by the United States military and it wasn’t long before the young aviatrix became a lieutenant in the Civil Air Patrol. Required to supply her own airplane and gas, she patrolled the US border and the Gulf of Mexico. When 1943 rolled around, the 20-year-old decided it was time for a change and applied to the WASP. The seasoned flyer that she was, Rosa Lea was accepted without hesitation into the WASP class 43-W4. When she showed up for training in Sweet Water, Texas, the organization was plagued by some early stage uncertainties; Nobody was sure how exactly to categorize the WASP trainees nor did there exist an official uniform. Rosa Lea had racked up far more flying time than most if not all women in her class, and even surpassed her instructor in flying hours, having herself achieved an impressive 280 at that point. Still, she was obligated to undergo ground training in view of her youth. Six months later, in August 1943, Rosa Lea graduated from training.

For her first posting as an official WASP, Rosa Lea chose to become one of the Fifth Ferry Command, reporting to Love Field in Dallas. Her choice was motivated in no small part by a fear that she would be given a “clunker” plane to fly at most locations, since women were not always highly esteemed by those in charge. She knew that they at least made AT8’s in Dallas. Once at Love Field, she was first assigned a PT19 plane to perform her duty, which consisted of flying around the United States delivering airplanes between bases. During this period, she would also fly a selection of aircraft including BT13’s, C45’s, twin engine Beechcrafts and AT6’s, which she dearly loved.

Rosa Lea was persuaded to attend Officer Training and pursuit school, the latter of which afforded her the chance to fly C47s, P47s, P39s, and P40s (which she pronounced the sturdiest and easiest to operate). Following her pursuit school training, Rosa Lea assumed new responsibilities ferrying fighter planes across the country, usually picking them up at Arlington and flying them to training schools or else to Newark or Long Beach where they would be shipped out as needed. The limited luggage space in these single seat fighters forced her to be creative; “I had to carry a map case so I put an extra shirt, a pair of socks, and underwear in there,” she explained, adding “Sometimes you’d be gone for two or three weeks with same uniform on.”

Rosa Lea and the P-51 Mustang.

Rosa Lea and the P-51 Mustang.

Rosa Lea’s nearly two-year tenure as a WASP would end in December of 1944 when she and her peers were dismissed from their duties as the organization came to an abrupt end. As she recalled, the women were instructed to “Go home, get married, have kids,” a rather cavalier end to the years of dedicated service that she and others like her contributed but one that nonetheless signified a logical next step for many former WASP.

On March 13, 1945, Rosa Lea married Carl D. Meek Sr., a Navy pilot from her hometown of McAllen, Texas. Together, the two went on to purchase the Kerrville Flying Service out of the Texas airport of the same name. The business became a family effort when Pop Fullwood’s mechanical skills were enlisted by the young couple, and even the supportive-but-airsick Buna joined in eventually to lend her services as a ground crew member and cook. Although the owners of the new flight school put in efforts to grow it within the community, a shortage of students made things difficult for the family, who, at one point were reduced to living in the rundown classroom of the facility. Rosa Lea found that her WASP past had repercussions within the community; “I found out real quickly that Kerrville was an old-fashioned town and they did not like military women”, she noted later. “I had that to overcome. So I didn’t talk about it. I mean, there are people I have known for years who only now realize what I did…the WACs had a better reputation, and they figured any women in the military had a horrible reputation.”

Rosa Lea and Carl pursued a number of business ventures together including aviation, real estate, cable television, ranching, and property development. After their divorce in 1967, Rosa Lea would move on to various career and personal adventures.  She started her own real estate firm (Rosa Lea Realty, Rosa Lea Meek, Realtor) and bought and sold commercial and residential properties in several Texas cities. Rosa Lea continued to fly airplanes, long into the 1990's, accumulating nearly 5,000 hours of flight over her long career. In September 1988, she had married Arthur Dickerson and their combined families grew to seven children and more than twenty-six grandchildren and great-grandchildren, which kept them very busy! She also took up dancing as a hobby.

Rosa Lea's daughter Janet Meek recalls that some of her mother's last days were spent in the hospital under less than ideal conditions; “Even as late as August she was being denied care at San Antonio Military Medical Center (SAMMC) because she was considered a civilian.  She was care-flighted there after she ruptured her spleen only because they accept a limited number of civilians in their trauma unit.  As soon as she left ICU their orders were ‘stabilize and transfer’ and one military doctor rudely remarked ‘What is SHE doing in MY hospital?’  But it really turned heads in the ICU when her physicians were making rounds one day and talking about her ‘swallowing issue’ and I told them that she had a hiatal hernia from pulling G's flying military aircraft!  They all took a different view of the ‘little old lady’ in the hospital bed after that.”

On October 23, 2016, Rosa Lea Fullwood Meek Dickerson passed away at the home of her daughter Janet, ending 94 years of vibrant life and service. Her efforts and contributions as a WASP, although often unacknowledged in past years, afforded her military benefits and Air Force honors at her graveside service. For Rosa Lea, a bold and courageous woman who defied convention, pursued her dreams, and aided her country in the face of personal risk, such gestures are both richly deserved and long overdue in their recognition of service, sacrifice, and courage.

(All photos by permission of the family of Rosa Lea Fullwood Meek Dickerson)

"These women were true patriots. I am absolutely honored to follow in their footsteps." --Lt Col Kristin Wehle, USAF.

by Jess Clackum

Lt Col Kristin Wehle (Photo: Capt Megan O'Rourke, USAF AETC 479 FTG/PAO)

Lt Col Kristin Wehle (Photo: Capt Megan O'Rourke, USAF AETC 479 FTG/PAO)

Lt Col Kristin "Howler" Wehle was destined to have a career in aviation. Born in Brunswick, Maine and raised in Randolph, Massachusetts, her father was a Navy pilot and her mother worked in Naval Aviation Support. Growing up around aviation and airshows greatly influenced her life...and her future. When she joined the Air Force ROTC to pay for college, it was at that moment, she realized being an aviator was what she really wanted to do in life.

After four years in the ROTC at UC-Berkeley, where she earned her BA in Physical Science, Wehle joined the Air Force on active duty, where she has served for just over fifteen years. She is a Weapons System Officer on the F-15E Strike Eagle, primarily responsible for the coordination and targeting of air-to-ground weapons.

Lt Col Wehle recently concluded her tour with the 479th Flying Training Group at Naval Air Station Pensacola, during which time she quickly upgraded to become one of the top evaluators in the 479th FTG and was an active member in a local women's mentoring group. The 479th FTG trains Combat Systems Officers (CSO) which is a rated position in the United States Air Force.  CSOs are tactical experts in their aircraft, specializing in weapon systems employment, electronic warfare operations and navigation systems. The CSO career field was previously known as the navigator position, but has evolved over the past decade to compensate for emerging threats around the globe.

The F-15E Strike Eagle, a dual-role fighter designed to perform air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. An array of avionics and electronics systems gives the F-15E the capability to fight at low altitude, day/night, all weather. (USAF photo/Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon)

The F-15E Strike Eagle, a dual-role fighter designed to perform air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. An array of avionics and electronics systems gives the F-15E the capability to fight at low altitude, day/night, all weather. (USAF photo/Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon)

She has deployed twice in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom and during that time faced some unique and challenging experiences. She recalls, "My most challenging moment was taxiing past a Fallen Comrade ceremony on the airfield ramp at my deployed location in Afghanistan, and knowing it was for a soldier that I had been trying to save and had not been able to do so."

During Howler's fini-flight (a tradition where aircrew members upon completion of their final flight are met and hosed down with water by their squadron comrades, family, and friends), she and Major Alisha Earls each instructed a student on a military training low level route.  On average, the T-1 flies around 500 feet off the ground at 240 miles per hour.  The instructor's job is to educate the students on visual navigation from the front station and weapons employment and threat reactions in the rear seat of the T-1.  The T-1 is utilized at all Air Force training locations, but the T-1As at NAS Pensacola have been modified to have a CSO workstation in the back which allows them to accomplish advanced threat reactions, simulate dropping weapons, and utilize a simulated ground mapping radar to navigate.

Lt Col Wehle (middle) with her fini flight crew. From L-R,  Capt Mary Guzowski, 2d Lt Nyapaula Washington, 2nd Lt Sarah Graupp and Maj Alisha Earls.  (Photo: Capt Megan O'Rourke)

Lt Col Wehle (middle) with her fini flight crew. From L-R,  Capt Mary Guzowski, 2d Lt Nyapaula Washington, 2nd Lt Sarah Graupp and Maj Alisha Earls.  (Photo: Capt Megan O'Rourke)

Wehle, who has a Masters in Management from Colorado Techand Master of Military Operational Art, Joint Warfare from Air University, intends to spend at least twenty years in the Air Force and hopes to continue working in Electronic Warfare beyond her military career. Grateful for the opportunities she's had, she wants to be a mentor to other young women interested in science and aviation.

"I would like to teach the younger generation that you have to work hard in order to achieve your dreams. It's not enough just to dream, you have to have concrete goals and then work toward them. Don't be afraid to ask other people for information, advice, or help with working towards your objectives."

Wehle is thankful for the women in aviation fields who paved the way for her and made it possible to have a career that she truly loves.

"The WASP, the WAFS, the ATA, and the many other early women aviators are an inspiration every single day. The opportunities that I have had to serve my country and my fellow service members would not have been possible without their hard work and dedication. The lack of support that our country provided for the WASP after WWII was an absolute travesty, and I could not be happier to see them finally receiving the recognition and appreciation that they deserve. These women were true patriots, and I am absolutely honored to follow in their footsteps."

Letters From Arthur #31: 25 Jan 1945, Leyte

by Jess Clackum

Allied troops in Luzon. (Photo: WWII Archives)

Allied troops in Luzon. (Photo: WWII Archives)

As the Battle of Luzon raged on, the 8th Army, led by General Eichelberger and consisting of ten U.S. divisions and five independent regiments, landed at Subica Bay and Batangas between 29 and 31 January, 1945. It would be the largest campaign of the Pacific with more forces than the campaigns in Africa, Italy and Southern France.


Dear Bill and May,

Another letter for today and I hope you've grown accustomed to being a civilian once again Bill!

Gosh! I really envy you, it's been so long since I've seen a restaurant or good Bar. Now you have all those things at reach. Oh! Well--I suppose someone has to do the infantry fighting in this Pacific. I truly hope it'll be over this year. I'm fed up with this primitive existence. I never know when my number is up and so far, I've had several narrow escapes from those maniacal Japs. So far so good. Thank dad for wanting to send me a trench knife. I could use it but it may take a long time to get to me. I haven't received any packages yet.

As to how I met Pearl, well all I can say is we both met and knew it had to be. I've never been sorry.

Love to Joanie and the folks

Your brother

Arthur

"All of us are proud to have served as best we could..." --Nancy Miller Livingston Stratford, British ATA pilot

by Logan Walker & Jess Clackum

During WWII, men and women pilots from the U.S. and other nations traveled to England to join British pilots as part of the British Air Transport Auxiliary, ferrying planes for the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. The ATA was the first organization which utilized women to ferry military aircraft. In 1942, 22-year old Nancy Miller of Los Angeles was one of those women, recruited by legendary aviatrix Jackie Cochran. The ATA would later serve as the model for the WASP.

 __________________

Nancy Livingston Stratford beside a Spitfire. England, 1943. (Photo: AirTransportAux.com)

Nancy Livingston Stratford beside a Spitfire. England, 1943. (Photo: AirTransportAux.com)

"I was born in L.A., near Western and Wilshire on Serrano Ave. Last time I saw the area it was nearly all apartments! (I) went to LA High School and Occidental College (for 2 years), and then graduated from UC California at Berkeley, where I learned to fly as a junior with the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) at Oakland Airport, with a private license in May 1940. Gad! That IS a long time ago!!!

Guess I’m the last of the 24-27 American women- 24 were recruited, as I was, by Jackie Cochran and 3 went over on their own. The American women went from the USA to England in small groups, starting in March, 1942. We checked out on a AT-6 Harvard in Montreal and if all was OK, we went on to England. We weren’t kept in a group (or groups), as the WASPS were, but were posted to different “pools” (stations), and lived with British families.

All of us had different experiences. I was down near Southampton at #15 Hamble, which had three Spitfire factories nearby- so I got to ferry my favorite aircraft many times! And then I transferred to Prestwick, Scotland where we had diversity of twin-engine aircraft. I ended up with 35 different single-engine types, and 15 twins, a wonderful flight experience. Rather remarkable, but foreign to most, we had a progressive checkout system over time, so I had 9 different SE and TE checkouts of about 3-5 hours each, and then all the rest (41) were solo first time up! I had two 18-month contracts, and they let me play out (ferry!) until the end of my contract on July 1945, even though the European war was over.

It’s getting to be ancient history, but I do want the ATA mentioned, as they were the first to have women ferry for them. Of course, I hope they’re mentioned in any aviation books or movies, TV or whatever…It was different from the WASPS- we didn’t have to march or live in barracks, etc.  Much has been made of the WASPs, and rightly so as they did a fine job, but we Americans went over before the WASPS started and returned a year after they were disbanded. And we were appreciated for our service…I don’t think the WASPs ever got the proper “thanks” for trying to do whatever they could (flying/ferrying) during WWII, even though they were recently acknowledged relative to their service a couple of years ago, and now can be buried at Arlington.

I wrote a book about my adventures, Contact! Britain! (by Nancy Miller Livingston Stratford), available through Amazon. It was a fun deal to do for my father, so it’s not too “fancy”, but it does give some of the atmosphere of the times, plus how we trained and ferried and my personal experiences.

All of us are proud to have served as best we could (flying)!"

__________________

Nancy Livingston Stratford proudly displays her British Badge of Honour for her service in the Air Transport Auxiliary during WWII. (Photo: Nancy Livingston Stratford)

Nancy Livingston Stratford proudly displays her British Badge of Honour for her service in the Air Transport Auxiliary during WWII. (Photo: Nancy Livingston Stratford)

After the war, Nancy Stratford continued to fly. In 1947, she earned her helicopter and seaplane ratings. She was a ground school instructor and director of training (among other things) with Livingston Air Service and Air Dusting in Oregon, which she owned and operated with her husband Arlo, an Alaska pioneer helicopter pilot.  As the only woman helicopter pilot in Oregon at one time, she had quite an adventure in the air, with missions that included air shows, transporting passengers, flying photo missions, and participating in fighting wildfires. After moving to Alaska with her husband in 1960, Stratford once again found herself the only woman helicopter pilot in the state.

Nancy Stratford made history not only for her service with the ATA but as the second licensed woman helicopter pilot in the United States and fourth in the world. By the time she retired in 1978, she had flown over 100 different types of aircraft and amassed 8,500 hours in the air! One of the first members (#4) of the Whirly-Girls (receiving their Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002), Stratford is also a member of the Twirly-Birds, Silver Wings and the 99's. In 2008, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown awarded Stratford and other surviving ATA members the Air Transport Auxiliary Veterans Badge of Honour for their service. Now 97, she resides in Southern California.

She's Got Grit: ALL FOCUS with Lt Col Tammy Barlette, Fighter Pilot and Leader

Lt Col Tammy Barlette

Lt Col Tammy Barlette

When Tammy Barlette flies at 400 knots with her wingtip just three feet away from another plane, she doesn’t pay attention to her own excitement. “I’m good at compartmentalizing, and focusing entirely on the moment at hand,” says this fearless woman. “It’s easier to keep any emotion out of the cockpit.”

Learning to fly in this kind of a tight formation in the T-38, the aircraft used to train Air Force pilots on the fighter/bomber track, might have been overwhelming, and Tammy admits that at first, it was. 

“I learned to focus on each step and how I would successfully execute it,” she says. “I take things one step at a time.”

At 400 knots, her steps come more quickly than they do for most. Tammy Barlette is an Air Force Lieutenant Colonel. After growing up in the suburbs of Minneapolis, she finished high school at a local college, funded by the state, where one of her classmates encouraged her nascent interest in the military. A Navy veteran, he steered her toward the Air Force. “They treat their people better,” he told her.

When Tammy arrived as a freshman at the University of Minnesota, she headed straight to the Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps office and signed up. Since then, she has never looked back.

Lt Col Barlette with the A-10

Lt Col Barlette with the A-10

In 2000, Tammy completed the Air Force Undergraduate Flight Training Program, and was stationed at Laughlin Air Force Base as an instructor pilot. She flew three assignments in the A-10, including one in Korea. The A-10 Warthog is one of the military’s most lethal weapons, excelling in close combat attacks and known for high speed runs at low-altitudes. On one of those tours, on one of her sorties, things went wrong.

 

“I was twenty five minutes into my sortie when I saw my gauges jumping around a lot,” Tammy says. “I notified flight lead that I’d have to shut an engine down.”

The last A-10 pilot who had attempted a single engine landing in Korea had been forced to eject. Tammy wasn’t thinking about that. She knew focus was key to survival, and she was focused on the single engine landing.

Tammy was closer to Kunsan than Osan, her departure base, so she called for an emergency landing while executing her emergency engine shut down.

Because of the previous pilot’s misfortune, Tammy was greeted on the tarmac with a small crowd and cheers.

“It wasn’t a big deal though,” she insists. “It was a standard single engine landing.”

One of the highlights of her time flying A-10s was friendship.

“When I went through A-10 training,” Barlette says, there was another woman, a lieutenant, in the class just ahead of mine. I followed her through, and then to Korea. She was an excellent pilot with more tactical experience than I had. We became really good friends.”

Barlette learned tactics from her fellow female pilot, and the lieutenant learned about leadership from Barlette. 

“I’d worried about serving with another woman,” said Barlette. “In some places, women can be really catty, but I didn’t find that in the fighter community at all. We were all just there to do our jobs.” In her next assignment, Barlette worked for a female squadron commander, Martha McSally, the first female Air Force A-10 pilot (now a congresswoman for the State of Arizona). 

Barlette doesn’t have any question about a woman’s abilities, but she does think men and women are different. “Women stress themselves out more than men,” she says. Women also tend to underestimate themselves, she found, but once she recognized that, she charged past it.

Lt Col Tammy Barlette with the Reaper RPA

Lt Col Tammy Barlette with the Reaper RPA

After cervical spine reconstruction, a repair from an earlier flight injury, Barlette found herself grounded for a time, coinciding with her marriage and starting a family, so she transferred to an active guard unit flying the Predator and the Reaper (remote piloted aircraft or RPAs also known as drones used in reconnaissance and remote attacks). 

 

“We flew the RPAs out of ground control stations, which were literally trailers,” Barlette said, “but as soon as I found out I was pregnant, the flight docs grounded me. I asked them why, since I was just sitting in a trailer, and they said the regulations hadn’t caught up to RPA pilots, so they had to use regulations written for the tanker/support pilots.”

Frustrated, Barlette did what she had learned to do well by then: find a way to move through the obstacle. She did the background research and worked with the doctors to change the regulation. By her third trimester, she was back flying the RPAs.

“I shot twice in combat while I was pregnant,” Barlette says. “When you fly the RPAs, you can talk to the guys on the ground from the control station here in the US. After the shot, I messaged the troops on the ground that I was seven months pregnant. I’m pretty sure I might be the first pregnant women with two air to ground combat kills.”

When Barlette was five months pregnant with her second child, her leadership, not fully comprehending the intensity of the Air Force Weapons School, asked her if she was interested in applying. “The Air Force Weapons school is a grueling six month program training the instructors of instructors not only in tactics but in how to teach the tactics as well. She went home to talk to her husband who worked as a federal agent for the U.S. Border Patrol Tactical Team. “You have to do this,” he said. “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.” Her mom stepped in to help with childcare, too, and she started preparing for the course. 

Somewhere in the midst of her preparation, the squadron leadership was tipped off to the challenge of the Weapons Course, and called Barlette into the office. “They started questioning whether I should go,” Barlette said. “I told them they had offered, I had accepted, and I would go. No questions.”

"I left my 18-month old and 3- month old home with my husband, my mom and a nanny, and went to weapons training for the six months,” Barlette said. “It was incredibly hard to compartmentalize my work from my family, but I had to do it. There were days I couldn’t even get a text out to check in. In Weapons School, you are always doing something way over your head. They push you past your limits. Things are dynamic, and you have to be able to manage change.”

Her participation was questioned externally, too.

“There were guys from my A-10 unit who were there and knew I had very young children at home,” she said. “There were people saying “There’s no way she’ll make it through.” That just fueled my fire. It wasn't easy, but you just don’t quit.” She pauses. “I’ve always been one to ignore what people think.” It has obviously served her well.

Completing Weapons School is one of Barlette’s proudest accomplishments, though she discusses it with reserve. “I wouldn’t take it back, but I wouldn’t do it again, either,” she says. Her critics continued even after she earned her patch. “I got comments about what mother would leave her three month old for a job. No one would ever ask a man those questions.”

Tammy’s hardest lesson came in managing her career. “No one will watch out for you better than yourself,” she warns. “In the military, you transition all the time. It’s important to keep a record of all that you do and it’s your responsibility to ensure your leadership knows about it.”

Her advice to new officers and leaders? 

“Show respect for the senior enlisted corps,” Barlette says. “They are a huge asset to you. Know what steps you need to take to get to the next level of your career, and keep detailed records.” Finally, in advice that echoes across several of our interviewees: “Get your masters degree sooner than later.”

If she were talking to herself as a new lieutenant, Tammy says she would just tell herself the lesson she learned partway through her years flying the A-10: “Have confidence in yourself.”

Lt Col Barlette with her children. (Photo: Photo: Scrappy Doodles Photography and Design)

Lt Col Barlette with her children. (Photo: Photo: Scrappy Doodles Photography and Design)

Barlette learned from working with both women and men. When I first started out I’d put on my armor and go out drinking with the guys,” she says. “I’d talk like the guys, even though it wasn’t me. I quickly realized I didn’t have to do that. They didn’t want me to do that. I just had to be myself.” 

But her time working with women was more positive than she’d expected. She has relished friendships from her units as well as the informal Chick Fighter Pilot Association, or CFPA, and understanding the value of those relationships and mentoring has stood up a LeanIn circle at Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas. 

“Grit is continuing toward a goal even when it’s more challenging than you had anticipated,” she says. “I don’t think of quitting as an option, and I always figure that if someone else has done it before, I can do it too.”

This strength is internal, but Barlette also credits the stories of those who have come before.

“Our society needs to place much more value on the experiences of those who have led the way,” Barlette says. As she is doing for others.

Letters From Arthur #30: 15 Jan 1945, Leyte

by Jess Clackum

Battle of Bessang Pass. (Photo: WWII Archives)

Battle of Bessang Pass. (Photo: WWII Archives)

Bessang Pass was a stronghold of Japanese Imperial Forces led by General Tomoyuki Yamashita. Five infantry regiments and a field artillery battalion of approximately 20,000 Filipino men led by five American officers and commanded by Colonel Russell Volckman. This unit, known as the US Army Forces of the Philippines - Northern Luzon/USAFP-NL), fought bravely in Cervantes for six days, suffering over 3,300 casualties and 900 deaths. Their fight led to the entrapment of Yamashita's forces which ultimately resulted in his surrender in the fall of that year. 


Dear Bill, May, and Joanie,

Received your ever so welcome letter today and so while I have a few moments free, I must answer you.

I felt it too bad that Mother had to return the bathrobe. I know she liked it, but I guess it must have been too small. Oh! Well, perhaps she can get something else for the money. I do know you went to a lot of trouble getting the appropriate gift. Thanks a million, you're a grand sister and brother. I guess you do know about myself and this Philippines affair.

Yes it was very rough, but I'm happy to say that after my second campaign, I'm well without a scratch. I shall write again shortly. Love to Joanie.

Your Devoted Brother

Arthur

"The reason for our commitment to the world of 1940's re-enactment is to honour the memory of our fathers..." --Steve Roberts, WWII Re-enactor

by Steve Roberts

Steve Roberts (right) with wife Lesley and friend Bob Ham (Photo: Steve Roberts)

Steve Roberts (right) with wife Lesley and friend Bob Ham (Photo: Steve Roberts)

My wife and I have been re-enacting in the UK for the last ten years. We belong to two groups currently, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Re-enactors and the Northern Forties Re-enactment Group. We both represent a number of different roles. Apart from the ATA [Air Transport Auxiliary], Lesley re-enacts as either Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, Auxiliary Territorial Service (Women's Army), or USAAC [United States Army Air Corps] nurse.

For myself, I mainly do RAF of Royal Navy, occasionally USAAC -9th Air Force or US 101st Airborne. We can both dress in full flying kit and we have a large display of air force equipment, artifacts and weapons. Other members of our groups have period vehicles and a full size replica Spitfire fighter. A full size Messerschmitt 109 fighter is on the way.

As the BBMF, we occasionally get to work with the Lancaster, Spitfires and Hurricanes of the Memorial Flight. One of the photographs shows our group with the Canadian Warplane Heritage Lancaster bomber "VR-A" back in 2014 when she was over in the UK.

Re-enactors Paul Neave, Mal Tyas, Kara Neave, Rita Tyas, Lesley Roberts & Steve Roberts (Photo: Steve Roberts)

Re-enactors Paul Neave, Mal Tyas, Kara Neave, Rita Tyas, Lesley Roberts & Steve Roberts (Photo: Steve Roberts)

Our aim is to make our representations as accurate as possible as a mark of respect to the memory of the people we are representing. The reason for our commitment to the world of 1940's re-enactment is to honour the memory of our fathers, both of whom fought in World War 2. Lesley's father was part of the B.E.F. [British Expeditionary Force] in France in 1940, and my father was part of Operation Overlord in 1944. Both were wounded seriously enough to take them out of the war although both survived.

Ruth Helm: "We Got To Do What We Loved To Do In A Time Of War"

by Logan Walker

Ruth Helm in her Class A WASP uniform. (Photo: Jay Helm via Arizona Public Media)

Ruth Helm in her Class A WASP uniform. (Photo: Jay Helm via Arizona Public Media)

For Ruth Helm, WASP, businesswoman, community worker and recreational aviatrix were all titles she could claim with some pride at points in her life. Her career, relatively varied as it was, could be in most cases tied to the sky and the aircraft that glided through it. Such a life might never have been expected for the daughter of an auto dealing family in rural Texas, but neither was the flimsy plane that landed in the small town of Grapeland one ordinary day in 1927. The pilot of the vessel was a barnstormer, one of the stunt pilots whose industry had seen a surge of popularity in earlier days, and who could count among their former ranks one Charles Lindberg, whose much publicized air exploits would seize the nation within the same year. Plagued by mechanical issues, the pilot of the broken aircraft eventually found his way to the auto dealership that Helm's father owned, borrowing some tools and returning later to offer thanks for aid in rehabilitating his vessel. The barnstormer’s offer of a plane ride was turned down by Mr. Helm, whose seat in the cockpit was instead taken by his eleven-year-old daughter. High above the ground, young Ruth Helm felt the beginnings of a passion for flight that would last much of her life. As her son Jay recalled later, “She said the houses looked like dollhouses down below, and it was that moment she knew she wanted to be a flier.”

Though Helm may have made up her mind about what she wanted to do, family responsibilities cast a weighty shadow over her personal ambitions.  Having made a promise to her family to complete her education before embarking on her chosen career path, Helm graduated from Baylor University with a business degree. When her father died abruptly soon after, she was compelled to return home and take up the reigns of the family’s auto business. But Helm had not given up on her dream quite yet. Soon enough her success as a businesswoman enabled her to earn the money required to enroll in the Civilian Pilot Training at Tyler Community College, where in early 1939 she earned her pilot’s license. Determined to push forward in her chosen field, Helm next took out a bank loan to buy a private plane, and joined the international organization of women pilots known as the Ninety-Nines.

At Love Field in Dallas, 1943. (Photo: Wings Across America)

At Love Field in Dallas, 1943. (Photo: Wings Across America)

With her skillset and qualifications, it’s little wonder that Jacqueline Cochran wasted no time in recruiting Ruth Helm for the WASP program in the early days of the organization. With America engaged in the onset of WWII, Helm jumped at the chance to aid her country but was poised to enter the program’s very first training class with just three days’ notice. Ruffled by the lack of practical preparation time, she chose instead to join the second WASP class, 43-W-2. For the piloting hopefuls who would converge in Texas, the process of gaining WASP wings required all women to have obtained pilot’s licenses prior to training, and to further go through the same Army Air Corps flight training as male recruits. But unlike the men, who usually earned qualifications to pilot four or five different aircraft, the WASP trainees had to learn to fly a far wider spectrum of planes. As Ruth’s son Jay would explain, for the WASP, it was important to have the skills necessary “to fly one airframe into an airfield (and) be immediately tasked to fly another airframe of a different model perhaps to another location.” Helm would become qualified to fly over 20 kinds of military aircraft over the course of her career.

Helm with unidentified pilots preparing to ferry a P-63 headed to Russia. (Photo: Jay Helm, via Arizona Public Media)

Helm with unidentified pilots preparing to ferry a P-63 headed to Russia. (Photo: Jay Helm, via Arizona Public Media)

Following Helm’s graduation from training she was given her first posting and sent to work in the Ferrying Squadron at Love Field in Dallas. There she flew Pursuit, Transport, and Bomber planes, and also found the time to undergo Officers Candidate School in Orlando, Florida. Despite working in a male-dominated field, Helm found the atmosphere between the two sexes friendly and congenial. As her son remembered, Ruth maintained “that the male pilots treated the gals with just phenomenal respect. The guys recognized that, ‘Hey, you’ve been through the same training I have. You know, you wear the same wings.’” But as Jay Helm would be forced to acknowledge seconds later, this was not strictly true; “Well (the men) wore wings the WASP didn’t get to wear - military wings. The military wouldn’t let them do that, but the guys knew they still earned their wings the same way they did.” Such details would foreshadow the struggle that former WASP would face for years after, one that Ruth herself would be directly acknowledged as a part of.

On the heels of the dissolution of the WASP program in December 1944, Helm’s next significant career move would build on her flight credentials. Along with four WASP friends, she purchased a plane and relocated to Tucson, Arizona where she proceeded to open the Thunderhead Fly-in Ranch, one of the first fly-in ranches established in the U.S. For roughly 10 years, stretching from the late 1940’s to 1950’s, Ruth would operate the ranch. She also started a family of her own with the ranch’s cowboy horse handler Walter “Slats” Helm, who she married in 1951. The couple would go on to have 2 children. 

By 1962, Helm earned a Masters Degreee in Business from the University of Arizona and would play an active part in her community, becoming the Treasurer of the Institute of Better Education and an active member of the Old Pueblo Foundation, a provider of halfway house for men and women. She also became involved with the fight to earn the WASP military status. She'd met with Representative Martha McSally when McSally was still an A-10 pilot at Tucson’s Davis Monthan Air Force Base. The meeting had a significant influence on McSally. She said, “These feisty women came in for this luncheon and sat down and introduced themselves to me, and they were just so excited that we had women who were flying fighters and I was part of that. And I was on the front of that.” Years later, on the floor of the House of Representatives, McSally again evoked Ruth’s name extolling the importance of the WASP, stating that “(WASP pilots) were more than role models who broke down gender barriers to serve in the military, they were my personal wingmen-or wingwomen-and I will be forever grateful to Ruth and all the WASP women for paving the way for me, for serving as my friends and mentors, and for proving that women could be exceptional pilots too.”

(Photo: Legacy.com/Arizona Daily Star)

(Photo: Legacy.com/Arizona Daily Star)

Ruth Helm passed away in 2015 and had no wishes to be buried at Arlington but her son Jay speculated that his mother would approve of the recent news that the WASP had finally won the fight to be buried there; "They served. I think she'd be delighted that for the gals that wanted that option, they had it." Reflecting on his mother and her career in flight, Jay notes that even though his mother stopped piloting in 1958 at the end of her time running the ranch, her love of flying and the pride she took in serving her country were unquestioned. “My mom never talked about what she did as pioneering,” he recalled, adding “She said, ‘We got to do what we loved to do to in a time of war.’”

From the 11-year-old girl who sailed above the rows of dollhouses high in the Texas sky to the 25-year-old woman who boarded military aircraft with the easy professionalism of an experienced pilot, Ruth Helm viewed her time at the controls of an aircraft through the lens of love and responsibility, and few could argue that there are better reasons to do anything.

Letters From Arthur #29: 8 Jan 1945, Leyte

by Jess Clackum

American soldiers on patrol in Leyte, January 1945. (Photo: 182nd Infantry)

American soldiers on patrol in Leyte, January 1945. (Photo: 182nd Infantry)

On 6 January 1945, Allied forces participated in the Invasion of Lingayen Gulf, an amphibious operation led by Admiral Jesse Oldendorf. US and Royal Australian Navy ships bombarded Japanese positions along the coast of Lingayen for three days straight. On 9 January, the US Army, under the command of General Walter Krueger landed on the coast of Lingayen Gulf and within days, had captured the coastal towns and penetraded five miles inland along a 20-mile stretch of beachhead. The Allied forces suffered heavy losses due do kamikaze attacks, losing 24 ships with another 67 heavily damaged.


Dear Bill, May, and Joanie,

Today I received your v-mail telling me of Bill's good luck in civilian life once again and I'm very happy for you both. This-I'm sure will make everything simply great. As for myself, I guess you've seen the newsreels and heard the radio broadcasts telling of our victory here in the Philippines. After my second campaign, I'm very fortunate indeed to so well and without a scratch. I'm a lucky guy I guess.

I've just been transferred to Hdq Co. The Colonel of my Battalion thought it a good idea so do I. You see, I'm constantly with him during campaigns, he likes my work and he's tops. Can't be beat. So here I am practically in truth a break for me, so on one of these messages. I'm putting down my new complete Co. address.

Forgive the usage of this message blank. It's the only thing available. I shall write you again shortly. Good luck. Love to Joanie.

Your devoted brother

Arthur

P.F.C. Arthur Hersh
32231160
1st Bn, Hdq Co. 305th Inf
APO 77 c/o PM
San Francisco, Cal

CW3 Eva Rodriguez, U.S. Army (Ret.): From Pilot to Author, Spiritual Healer, and Activist Serving Her Community

by Logan Walker

To most people who experienced a childhood as Eva Rodriguez did, a life of turbulent adventure and near constant travel might seem like a path to be avoided rather than actively pursued. Constancy and environmental stability can provide an undeniable lure to those who have never experienced it. But, as Rodriguez’s unique life and career prove, normal is sometimes just not enough.

Eva on military duty. (Photo: georgeherald.com)

Eva on military duty. (Photo: georgeherald.com)

Born in 1963 Detroit to Mexican descended musician Sixto “Sugar Man” Rodriguez and his half-Cherokee wife Rayma, Eva and her family lived a gypsy lifestyle that wasn’t without hardships. She says, “(My parents) did tough things to keep going and raise three kids. I went to 13 different schools because we moved around all the time. Sandra and I were always the new kids at school and before we could make friends we moved again.”  Despite the lack of stability, her parents did their best to keep the family together in a supportive and loving environment. Art was a pervasive part of the Rodriguez home, with Eva recalling that, “Music was always a part of our life. Rodriguez played guitar and we were encouraged to sing and perform poems, drum, and dance.”

Life would change when a U.S. Army recruitment team visited Eva's school. She signed up right away; “As my dad’s daughter I was taught to love not kill. I was a hippie. But the opportunity came along and I realized if I did not get out of Detroit I would probably end up being a mom on crack.” By 1986 she was working as a combat nurse, and spent a year stationed in South Korea working with the seriously injured. During this time, she helped to evacuate a patient by helicopter for the first time, an experience that left her with a growing interest in flying. Never one to rest on her laurels, by the next year she not only passed the difficult Army pilot training test but became one of the first women to do so. Officer training was intense and difficult, and Rodriguez was striving in what was undeniably a male dominated environment; in personal quarters, she shared a bathroom with 70 men. Despite what must have felt like at least an initial incongruence, Eva remembers an acceptance and camaraderie that eventually sprung up between her and her male co-trainees. Her training took her to Germany between 1988 and 1990 before she was finally rewarded as an official military pilot.

Life as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot was a whirlwind of travel and excitement, alternately thrilling and heart-wrenchingly tense. Sent to Puerto Rico, she spent time acting as a military advisor for Columbia and Barbados before traveling to Honduras, Guatemala and Belize as a safety program manager. Next disaster relief and humanitarian work called her across South America, to places like Nicaragua, Belize and El Salvador. A year later she flew in the Persian Gulf War, carrying patients and medical supplies through the war zones from Iraq to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

The steady and substantive financial perks of Rodriguez’s job allowed her to spend lavishly and purchase expensive clothes, cars, and houses (in both Egypt and Germany). Looking fondly on these days which stood in such stark contrast to the modest lifestyle she grew up with, Eva muses, “I literally lived the American dream.” But the dream darkened when the realities of her work in combat put her in serious concern of her life. “I had a lot of close calls, which make you realize you are not in control of everything,” she explained, adding, “There is a reason why you make it out alive and others don’t.”

Eva with her father Sixto (Photo: sugarman.org)

Eva with her father Sixto (Photo: sugarman.org)

Returning to America in 1991, Eva put her medical experience to work as a nurse in Kansas, working with patients for four years. Next she spent a yearlong stint as a peacekeeper in Egypt, an experience she recalls as a particular career favorite, before she returned once more to her life in Kansas. It was at this point that she was surprised to learn of two South African fans of her father who were searching for information on the current whereabouts of the “Sugar Man”, whose popularity, she would learn, was quite substantial in South Africa. Eva, who refers to her father only by his last name, was passingly aware of his status as a pop musician whose song (and epithet provider) “Sugar Man” had been an international hit for a period in the ‘70s, but knew relatively little of his music. Inspired by the renewed interest, she set about assisting in the revitalization of his career, taking photos of the musician for fans and arranging and accompanying him on a string of South African tour dates.

Eva, "On 3rdDegree: Rodriguez-Echoes of Freedom" (Photo: sugarman.org)

Eva, "On 3rdDegree: Rodriguez-Echoes of Freedom" (Photo: sugarman.org)

Once back from the tour experience, Rodriguez’s daily life had reached an adventurous and sometimes hectic fever pitch as it seems she was once more piloting helicopters for the military. Soon enough she found her life changed following the birth of her first child. The 1999 arrival of her son called into question how much longer she could continue in a line of work that meant near constant danger; “I was a soldier by day and a mom by night. But once you become a mom your mind-set changes. For the first time I had something to live for.” The final straw came for Eva as she piloted a Black Hawk helicopter in the midst of a Columbia drug raid, an experience that forced her to realize that there was no room in her life for both her Army missions and her child. Honorably discharged as a highly decorated soldier, she ended her military career as a Chief Warrant Officer 3, and in 2001 moved with her family to the town of Wilderness in South Africa where she set up house in a rural cliffside cottage.

Reflecting on her long career, Rodriguez states that “As a woman, the effects after a war are very hard. Everyone admires you as a hero, but you don’t feel like one. Twenty years was enough, so I took early retirement.”  Years in the stressful environment of the Army as well as an awareness of her Mexican/Cherokee ancestors and their tribal healing practices influenced her interest in spirituality and native healing, a subject which she calls “full of sacredness and miracles”.

Eva authored the book, The Circle of Love, a book authored by Rodriguez and aimed at highlighting spirituality and nature for children. Picked by UNIMA as an arts intervention project and staged by over 300 students at a school in Cape Town, the book combined many forms of performative art over a period of eight weeks. In 2009, it was performed for the Amateur Arts Festival at George Society of the Arts Theatre where it was nominated for Best Performance and received acknowledgment for directorial and script efforts. According to Eva, “My vision is to promote The Circle of Love as a fundraiser to provide children with greater opportunities to express themselves creatively, encourage a true appreciation of nature, and in doing so expand their own circle of love.”

Eva Rodriguez (Photo: heraldlive.com)

Eva Rodriguez (Photo: heraldlive.com)

Immersed in a life very different from the one she led years ago, Eva has settled into a life of healing and authoring in her tranquil community, occasionally accompanying her father on tours and extending her efforts toward community involvement. Of her preferred lifestyle of late, she says “I live in Wilderness, it’s pretty remote. I’ve been there a long time. So I enjoy Cape Town, the art and the buzz, but it gets too much and then I long to go back to Wilderness.” After a career surrounded by men in a largely male-centric field, her current life has seen her surrounded by more women than ever before, as she is in her own words, “still trying to get in touch with my feminine side.” Now an executive committee member of the Outeniqua Business and Professional Women’s Club in George, she views helping with the club’s Phambili Refuge for Battered Women as a priority, stating “I have realized that one way I need to give back is by helping women be aware of their rights within relationships and that there are ways to pursue justice despite being abused and without resources.”

Although her piloting days are behind her, Eva’s continued commitment to serving her community and the larger world through authorship, healing, and community outreach are undoubtedly an extension of the active role she has always taken in meeting challenges head on and bravely participating in the change in both her local and global environment.

Major Maria Tejada-Quintana paved the way and broke the glass ceiling for all girls in the Dominican Republic

by Liz Duca

Major Maria Tejada-Quintana (Photo: hoy.com.do)

Major Maria Tejada-Quintana (Photo: hoy.com.do)

In the Dominican Republic Air Force less than 5% of pilots are women, and only one holds the title of her country’s first and only female fighter pilot; Major Maria Tejada-Quintana. She flies the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano, a turboprop light-attack combat aircraft, used primarily for drug-interdiction and border patrol missions. “When I was a child I never believed this could be my career,”Maria says. “In my country women were not allowed to enter the military academy, let alone become a pilot.” It is a common theme many female aviators faced when they began to dream what some considered an impossible dream.

Maria Tejada-Quintana at age 4. Even though women weren't pilots in the Dominican Republic, she believed she would one day achieve her dream. (Photo: Maria Tejada-Quintana)

Maria Tejada-Quintana at age 4. Even though women weren't pilots in the Dominican Republic, she believed she would one day achieve her dream. (Photo: Maria Tejada-Quintana)

As a young girl, Maria imagined she would become a doctor. She laughed as she recounted always playing with her dolls as though they were sick. However, during her adolescence everything changed. When she was 11 years old her older brother entered the military academy and began to train to be a fighter pilot. “He was my biggest
inspiration toward pursuing a career in the military and of course toward becoming a pilot." Every weekend he returned home and would tell his family stories about flight training. It fascinated Maria and she began to imagine herself as a fighter pilot just like her older brother. Although becoming a military pilot was not a possibility for women, her passion for aviation continued to grow. Then, in 2002, the impossible dream was made possible. The Dominican Republic Air Force announced they would begin to allow women to enter the military academy. It was the moment Maria had been waiting for. With her family’s support she entered the military and became a part of the first class of female cadets to graduate from the Dominican Air Force Academy. Three years later she began flight training.

Standing at 5’1’’ and petite in stature, many doubted if Maria had what it took to become a military pilot. Despite those who said she couldn’t do it, she kept her head high and pressed toward her goal. She knew it would not be easy, but she never gave up. The words of Paulo Coelho helped her to keep faith, “No dejes que las dudas paralicen tus acciones”.... do not let your doubts paralyze your actions. It was also during this time that Maria first heard about the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) and in many ways their story was her story. She too was one of the first female military pilots for her country and there was a lot that she had to prove. All eyes were on her. Reading about the tenacity and courage of the WASP gave her the inspiration and confidence to believe that she too would succeed. Their story proved that there was no obstacle that could stand in her way.

Major Tejada-Quintana is the pride of her nation. (Photo: Imgrum)

Major Tejada-Quintana is the pride of her nation. (Photo: Imgrum)

After years of training, Maria earned her coveted aviation wings and became the first woman in her country’s history to fly the A-29 Super Tucano. She paved the way and broke the glass ceiling for all girls in the Dominican Republic. Seven other women have since followed in Maria’s footsteps, and this year one woman will also have the chance to fly the A-29. Maria has full confidence that she will succeed and be an excellent fighter pilot. “If I could do it, why can’t they?” asked Maria. “No matter how hard and difficult things can be, if we put forth all of our courage and effort we can do anything.”

Letters From Arthur #28: 26 Dec 1944, Leyte

by Jess Clackum

Palompon after the allied bombings, December 1944.

Palompon after the allied bombings, December 1944.

On 25 December, the last connecting road between the enemy and their chief remaining port of entry for reinforcements was severed when the 77th Infantry Division seized Palompon. By the end of the day, General MacArthur had controlled all major supply and communication routes of the enemy and declared Leyte secure.  On 26 December 1944, he transferred control of both Leyte and Samar to the 8th Army. In the north, US forces defeated disorganized Japanese troops. The 1st Calvary troops reached the Coast days later and the 24th Division cleared the last enemies from northwestern Leyte. Though MacArthur insisted the remaining job was to clean up a few stragglers, Eichelberger's 8th Army killed more than 27,000 Japanese on Leyte between December and May 1945. 



Dec 26, 1944


Dearest Sis May:

Please forgive me if you have not heard from me for so long. We have been busy fighting here on Leyte Island in the Philippines. We have more to contend with in this campaign than in Guam. Here we experience Jap bombing, but our great planes always chase them or destroy them at the scene of combat.

I'm fine so far and I know that I shall come out alright. I shall try to write you dear as often as I can, in the past few weeks it's been difficult. No May, I haven't received a package and the first chance I get I shall send you the balance to the expense of Mother's Xmas gift. Have written to Bill couple weeks ago when I landed in Leyte. I know you have received mail from me by now. Take care of yourself, Love to Joan.

Your Devoted Brother

Arthur