Supporting other women is something I very much believe in. Whether it be at home, in our careers or both, I believe that we can do it! The battles are not always intentional, but they are always there. Because he knows it’s importance to me, my husband shared an article with me this morning about the success of a female fighter pilot, Lt. Col. Katie Gaetke. It has inspired me to share some things with you.
“The more men see women doing these things and in these roles, the more they just kind of grow up thinking, ‘Well, of course it is this way,'” Gaetke says.
Female Fighter Pilots
Women in my husband’s career particularly hold a special place in my heart as I have seen the battles they face. I appreciate them all for being role models for my daughter, toughing out the hardships and succeeding in their own unique story! Throughout our marriage, I have crossed paths with eight female fighter pilots working with my husband. This is a big deal given that there are currently only about 42 total active duty.
During his last assignment I had the privilege of working in his squadron. I am grateful for that time as I was able to learn a lot about what he does. I was also able to see two female fighter pilots work during that time and multiple others in the other squadron on base. This is when I began to appreciate and understand them on a different level.
One of my jobs included ordering new flight suits for the pilots. Now this seems like an easy task and for the most part it is, however, there are some exceptions. Sometimes the pilots need “special order” flight suits because they have longer legs or just don’t fit the standard sizing. Again, not that strange since it’s a lot like how I shop, I typically need a petite for my short legs. I then found out that there are men’s and women’s flight suits. Now if you have seen these things you would think they would all be the same. They’re just loose fitting green onesies! But that’s just it, they’re ONESIES!! This means when the pilots are flying they use the bottom part of the zipper and what is called a piddle pack to pee. If a woman is wearing a men’s flight suit, the zipper does not unzip far enough back for them to easily do so. From what I’ve been told, it is possible just more difficult. I can only imagine having to continue performing the duties of flying in that tiny space while trying to pee without the proper fitting tools!!
I want to point out that these women never complained to me about this issue. One of them simply asked if I could look into ordering her a few female flight suits. So I did. And I became pretty passionate about it. After talking to many base agencies, approved equipment providers and reaching out to the other female fighter pilots, I realized this was not going to be easy. One of the women I spoke with referred to women’s flight suits as “unicorns” due to their lack of existence. After weeks of the hunt, I found the way to order them. The order was placed around October and they made it to the pilot in April. Yes, over six months later. I tell you this story because it’s something most people (especially male fighters) wouldn’t think about. Now think about that small detail of peeing in the jet and consider all of the other challenges they must face. From balancing family & work to proving their capability to fitting in & hoping their peers don’t act differently when they’re in the room.
Photo Credit: Capt. Brittany Trimble, High Flight
Let’s use the example of pregnancy. If they choose to start a family, they are allowed 12 weeks off for maternity leave where their male counterparts get 10 days (which should be more, but that’s a post for another day). This is a newly implemented regulation and worth celebrating 🙌🏼. However, from the day they decide to share the pregnancy they immediately become DNIF (not allowed to fly). Think about the immediate consequences: losing training, no longer competitive for upgrades during this time (promotions for those of us normal folk), and more.
The Respect They Deserve:
These women are breaking barriers. They are doing everything that they are asked to do and more. They are working harder than their peers have to in order to be able to give themselves the same opportunities. So I would like to thank each one of them for the example they are showing the world and the statement they are making on behalf of all women.
Lt. Col. Gaetke points out that the perception and attitude is changing as men are now noticing and speaking out:
‘Wait a minute, that’s not right and ‘Have you thought about it from this perspective?’ . . . That is incredible and that is where the real change is,” Lt. Col. Gaetke says.
Female fighter pilots, you are paving the way for the next generation of fighter pilots and my daughter is watching, so thank you.
I hope you also take the time to read the full article by Lara Seligman on Aviation Week’s website. You can find it here. Also, check out High Flight, a blog written by female fighter pilot, Capt. Brittany Trimble.