by Jess Clackum
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.
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.
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."