TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – BEEliners, friends and family, after reflecting on the recent all-woman BEEliner mission to the Pacific, I felt compelled to write the following letter to my daughter:
March is Women’s History Month. To commemorate this occasion, the 21st Airlift Squadron “BEEliners” formed an all-woman C-17 Globemaster III aircrew to fly a mission to Australia. These women pilots, loadmasters, maintainers and public affairs personnel piloted, loaded, fixed and documented a journey halfway around the world and back. We did this to honor our past and recognize the service of women today. We also did it for you. We did it for the other seven-year-old girls in your first grade class and all the young girls who will lead our country in the future.
In the history of our nation, equal opportunity for women was inexcusably delayed. Today, it is young and unfinished. We declared our independence from Britain in 1776, but it would take another 134 years for women to earn the right to vote nationally. In 1920, Congress finally ratified the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, stating the right “to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Your teachers will illuminate the stories of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucy Stone. These courageous leaders founded the National American Woman Suffrage Association and fought valiantly for social equality and civil rights. In 1916, with Carrie Chapman Catt at the helm, NAWSA finally won the battle for women’s suffrage, but the war for equal opportunity was far from over.
In 1948, a year after the birth of the United States Air Force, Congress passed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act. This law granted full, rather than voluntary, status to women in the military. Until Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, workplaces suffered from rampant segregation and discrimination. Women were often clustered around certain jobs and marked with low status and low pay. In 1976, just 41 years ago, the first women were admitted to the military service academies. In 1991, Congress authorized women to fly combat missions. The last seven decades have seen much progress, but progress still remains. Today, 20 percent of Air Force personnel are women, but only 6 percent of pilots are women. Recently, the “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” campaigns illuminated the quest for equal opportunity. A portion of the glass ceiling remains. One day, it will be shattered completely.
As your father and a leader in our United States Air Force, I offer these thoughts. I believe we must be one in service, and we are stronger because of, rather than despite, our differences. Some of our differences are visible—gender and the hue of our skin. Others are not always visible—the way we think and our inspirations and motivations. Leaders are obligated to do two important tasks: First, they must elevate others, through equal opportunity, to become the best versions of themselves. Second, leaders must unite people around a shared vision of better. You, too, will be a leader in your days ahead. I have no doubt you will lift people up, bring them together and make this world a better place.
To the chorus who demands, “Why an all-woman aircrew?” I say, it affirms. It affirms an equal opportunity for young women and girls driven to serve. It affirms the strength and choice of women who currently serve. Finally, it affirms and honors the tears and toil of women who fought valiantly for this opportunity. Future, present and past, the light shines on this new generation of warriors.
Ella, in 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I believe in a better tomorrow that will see equal opportunity for all, despite our differences. Dare to dream, strive to greatness and never let anyone limit your hope. These BEEliner ladies flew this mission for you and many others. Like the women of the suffrage movement, they give you the priceless gift of a better tomorrow.