CONTRIBUTIONS OF WOMEN IN AIR FORCE HISTORY: 78th ABW commander says opportunities abound for women in today’s Air Force

  • Published
  • By Holly L. Birchfield
  • 78th ABW/PA
While women's roles in the U.S Air Force have evolved since their service began in mid-February 1948, Col. Theresa Carter said women's contributions have remained as strong as those of their male counterparts through the years.

Colonel Carter, 78th Air Base Wing commander since January 2006, had a desire to follow in her family's military service heritage early in life.

"My dad served in the Navy in World War II and my brother was in Air Force ROTC while I was in high school," she said. "I always had an interest in the military and wanted to go to college out of state, something that I wouldn't be able to do without a scholarship."

So, Colonel Carter began charting her journey to a military career, carefully choosing her steps with guidance from her family along the way.

"I applied for and earned both Navy and Air Force ROTC scholarships and my brother told me that opportunities for women were much better at the time (1981) in the Air Force than in the Navy," she said.

The aspiring military member set her sights on an Air Force career.

A lot has changed in the time since the colonel entered the Air Force in 1985 as a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps Program at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.

"The support remains," she said. "What has changed is the expansion of opportunities for women to serve in almost every career field. Today we have female fighter pilots, whereas in 1985, women were restricted from flying fighter aircraft. As we've seen in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, the "front lines" are often right on our air bases and just outside the wire and women are excelling as security forces Airmen, convoy commanders, and other difficult jobs."

Colonel Carter, who worked in civil engineering earlier in her Air Force career, said women haven't always been abundant in some career fields.

"I have always found the climate (of the Air Force) very supportive," she said. "In the civil engineering career field, there were very few enlisted women and I was usually the only female officer in my squadron. However, I never really focused on that fact, but simply tried to focus on doing my best every day."

Putting her best foot forward combined with seizing opportunities before her has helped the Air Force officer excel in her military career.

"I have been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time with the right people throughout my career," she said. "I've worked with and for some outstanding Airmen who have taught me so much and challenged me to do my best."

Colonel Carter said it takes a lot to get to the top.

"Part of the dynamic of seeing women in top-level positions is the fact that it takes 20 to 25 or 30 years to grow leaders to fill senior officer, enlisted, and civilian positions in our Air Force," she said. "Changes that took place in the late 1970s (opening the Air Force Academy to women) and in the early 1980s are just now starting to bear fruit."

Colonel Carter said while she is a female serving the Air Force mission, she is an Airman first.

"I've always tried to focus on being an Air Force officer and not the fact that I am a female officer," she said. "While it's important to celebrate the achievements of women and minority groups in our military, it's equally important to celebrate the fact that we are all Airmen - male and female, white, black, Hispanic, and Asian, military and civilian - and it takes all of us working together to keep our Air Force as the world's best, bar none." 

(Editor's note: As part of the Rev-Up's 60th Anniversary edition, this is one of two articles examining the  roles of women in the Air Force and how those roles have progressed in 60 years.