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Female aviators take to the sky in honor of Women’s History Month

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jette Carr
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
A B-1 taxied on the flight line at Ellsworth Air Force Base, preparing to takeoff. What made this flight unique was not the mission – to train and hone the Airmen’s skills while they flew in the local area. What made this March 21 flight remarkable was that the entire aircrew was comprised of female aviators from the 34th Bomb Squadron. 

The all-female crew consisted of two B-1 pilots, Capts. Lillian Pryor and Lauren Olme, and two weapon systems officers, Capt. Danielle Zidack and 1st Lt. Kimberly Auton. Capt. Lacey Koelling, the 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge, also supported the bomber’s preflight maintenance.

Last year, the squadron was able to put together an all-female flight by combining crews of two from both the 34th BS and the 37th BS. With the recent flight, Olme believes this to be the first time her squadron has had the manning to accommodate an all-female flight internally.

“We finally have four females here that make up a full crew, and what better time than Women’s History Month to do a full crew and fly together,” she said, further explaining why the flight held an importance to her. “To me, it’s really just about honoring the women that came before us. This wouldn’t be possible without the females who … broke those barriers and allowed us to be where we are today.”

Many members of the crew referred to those who had inspired them, such as Amelia Earhart, the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean; Army Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody, the first woman promoted to the rank of general in the U.S. Armed Forces; and the Women Airforce Service Pilots who flew during World War II.

“It’s important to mention the women who came before us, paving the way. Without them, I wouldn’t be here today,” said Zidack, the mission lead for the flight. “It’s because of those courageous women [and what they accomplished] that have allowed me to do the job that I do today and feel confident doing it.”

The weapon systems officer explained that she came from a family rich in military heritage, with her father and grandfathers having served. Though her aunt enlisted for a time, Zidack is the first woman in her family to serve as an officer.

Women have been making great strides in the recent past. Lt. Col. Allison Black, the first female AC-130 Spectre navigator to open fire in combat operations became the first woman to receive the Air Force Combat Action Medal in 2007. The last two secretaries of the Air Force have been female – currently Heather Wilson and before her Deborah Lee James. Additionally, in 2016, former Defense Secretary Ash Carter further minimized the division between genders by opening all military occupations in the U.S. armed services to women, to include Air Force parajumpers, Army Green Berets and Navy SEALs.

“It’s incredible to see other women doing bigger and better things than even I’m doing, and that just makes me want to be better,” Zidack explained, adding that it was empowering to see women achieving so much during her time.

With new doors opening up to female service members, there will be many more “firsts” for females in the military who are taking up the challenge to serve alongside their male counterparts in all aspects of the fight. Those Airmen, Soldiers, Marines and Sailors will be the ones who set the example for future generations and continue breaking barriers for women, just like their predecessors did for them.

“I’m so proud of where we’ve come from and where we are today,” Olme exclaimed. “We hope – the four of us – that we can be an inspiration for the younger generation. We hope that we can inspire younger women to join the Air Force and be part of the fight, just like we are.”