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    Inspiring Change: Air Force female mavericks

    Air Force Week kicks off in New York City

    Photo By Corey Parrish | Maj. Shawna R. Kimbrell, 555th Fighter Squadron, is the first African American female...... read more read more



    Story by Senior Airman Michael Ellis 

    6th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

    AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar -- "Sir, I don't want to be the first but if that's the term of the deal...I'll take it," said the first U.S. Air Force female fighter pilot.

    Annually on March 8, thousands of events are held around the globe to celebrate International Women's Day, an event that is currently celebrated in 28 countries. This year's theme is Inspiring Change and "calls for challenging the status quo for women's equality and vigilance inspiring change," according to the International Women's Day's website.

    Col. Jeannie Leavitt, the first U.S. Air Force female fighter pilot and the first female fighter wing commander, and Maj. Shawna Kimbrell, the first African American female fighter pilot, have been linchpins for change among women in the Air Force.

    Being selected to become an Air Force pilot is uncommon; pilots comprise less than 5 percent of all airmen. Being selected as a fighter pilot is even rarer. Being selected as a female fighter pilot is exceptional; and 20 years ago, it was not even possible.

    After the paramount support of more than 40,000 service women during Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield, in 1993 (almost two decades after women first entered pilot training) the Pentagon repealed the ban that prevented women from flying on aircraft engaged in combat missions.

    "I was very interested in flying fighters. I did not want to be the first one (woman) necessarily, I just wanted to fly fighters," said Leavitt.

    Leavitt described how being the only woman in fighter pilot training was challenging, especially with the media interview requests and extra attention.

    "It was interesting; being the first female fighter pilot, there was a lot of attention. And the attention wasn't what I wanted...It was hard to blend in and be part of the squadron."

    Kimbrell's 1999 pilot training class marked another first for women in the Air Force; as Kimbrell earned her wings, she would later become the first African American female fighter pilot.

    Like Leavitt, Kimbrell also noted the added attention that encompasses being a first.

    "It is an important step for progression, and although I am not fond of the spotlight I think it is important for people to know that this barrier has been breached," said Kimbrell. "Especially for the African-American community and for women to know what types of opportunities are available to them."

    Leavitt echoed a similar message in regards to the future opportunities for women.

    "Gender, race, religion--none of that matters," Leavitt said. "What matters is how you perform."

    Things have come a long way since International Women's Day first started in the early 1900s (before women's suffrage).

    International Women's Day is an opportunity to acknowledge the great accomplishments of remarkable women like Leavitt and Kimbrell. In addition, it's an avenue to inspire others to forego the gender barriers that have been founded by previous generations and a chance to continually strive for equality.

    For more information or to participate in the nearest event, please visit

    (Editor's note: Information on 2014 International Women's Day came from Interviews from the July 2012 Afternoon with Amos: Maj. Shawna Kimbrell and the May 2013 NPR Sunday Conversation: Col. Jeannie Leavitt contributed to this article.)



    Date Taken: 03.03.2014
    Date Posted: 03.03.2014 07:59
    Story ID: 121405
    Location: AL UDEID AIR BASE, QA

    Web Views: 1,095
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