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Air Force pioneer shares story with Travis Airmen

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – By the end of her discussion with several active duty Air Force members from the 60th Maintenance Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, California, August 1, 2017, Beverly Sterling expressed that she was nervous to be speaking about her career in front of a crowd. However, it went noticed due to the energy and passion she puts into telling her story as one of the first female officers in the US Air Force.

 

“We had a unique opportunity here to speak to Ms. Bev,“ said Lt. Col. Claudio Covacci, 60th MXS commander.

 

In 1951, Sterling was working in retail and heard about a new Air Force program that opened up to give women direct commissions into the Air Force. She was one of 50 women to enroll in the program.

 

“It was an open enrollment and you applied, the basic qualifications were that you had 4 years of college and some experience in your given field,” said Sterling.

 

While the women she commissioned with all had separate reasons for wanting to be a part of the military, Sterling spoke of the challenge of many men believing that women joined the military to meet a man.

 

For Sterling, her reasons were quite the opposite. She was working in Houston, Texas, when she noticed that her male counterpart was getting paid more than she was.

 

“I’ll tell you why I went in, and it wasn’t to find a guy,” said Sterling. “I wanted equal pay, so I applied for this program because the women got the same pay as the men.”

 

Sterling said that it was not typical of women to graduate high school and enter the workforce right away at the time.

Most women would get married, start a family and then start thinking of the possibility of a career. In her case, she was one of two women in her high school graduating class that did not get married, but started working first instead.

 

“There were other people that didn’t want that kind of life, so they went out into the world,” said Sterling. “I just did it a little earlier than most.”

 

After receiving a letter in the mail telling her that she recieved a commission, Sterling went to Great Lakes Naval Training Station, Illiniois, to be tested on her mental and physical fitness. Then she was sent to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, to continue training and finally to Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, to start her job as a second lieutenant.

 

There were growing pains as the Air Force added female officers to the service. The women had to walk a mile to work from their barracks, worked in buildings that were separated from men and often did not have facilities to use when they traveled to other Air Force bases that did not have women. So it was difficult to have any career aspirations, said Sterling.

 

“I would do my work as best as I could and survive. I think my energy was focused more on just getting through it, it wasn’t easy,” said Sterling.

 

After being in the Air Force for almost two years, she received orders to go to Wisconsin but ended up getting married and separating instead.

 

“I did survive, and I got old after that. Therefore, I’m happy,” said Sterling.

 

Though her time in the Air Force was short, she is very proud of being able to serve and stressed the importance of the military continuing to innovate and grow around its people.

 

“We should open our minds and take advantage of all the educational opportunities and verbal interaction,” said Sterling.