COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. – Columbus Air Force Base hosted the first-ever Air Force Virtual Women’s Fly-In during a Facebook Live event, May 11.
With a nod to female aviation pioneers as the backdrop, the event was open to all Airmen regardless of gender or career field, and helped Airmen create networks to learn more about experiences, leadership and life.
“The vision of the original event was to connect aviatrices and build a supportive network to grow our diverse and inclusive force, as well as connect our operators with their long blue line and origin in the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II,” said Col. Samantha Weeks, 14th Flying Training Wing commander and lead organizer of the event. “Today, with the realities of coronavirus, a physical fly-in isn’t possible, but a virtual venue to connect provides an even greater opportunity and outreach across the Air Force.”
The event featured 10 guest and keynote speakers who talked and discussed a variety of topics ranging from senior leadership perspective, rated diversity initiatives, unconscious bias and leading with an infinite mindset.
Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett talked about the advances in the Air and Space Forces while also highlighting some historic milestones of American women in aviation history.
“Women have been leading and continue to lead the Department of the United States Air Force,” Barrett said.
“There is no better time to be part of the air and space forces,” she said. “We’re thrilled that you are a part of it.”
Harriett Quimby was one of those women in aviation history who have made a big impact. In 1911, she was awarded a U.S. pilot’s certificate by the Aero Club of America, becoming the first woman to gain a pilot’s license in the United States. Born May 11, 1875, Quimby lived only to the age of 37, but she influenced the role of women in aviation. She died in a plane crash, July 1, 1912, at the third annual Boston Aviation Meet.
Among the keynote speakers was retired Gen. Lori Robinson, former commander of U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command. Robinson used a majority of her time to address questions from the audience, which included topics from her biggest leadership challenge, choosing mentors, conscious and unconscious bias challenges, combating perceptions while staying true to oneself, and how the Air Force can move forward with protecting people.
Providing an answer to a viewer’s question, Robinson said when people start incorporating gender into how issues or topics are brought forward and dealt with, it can essentially be detrimental to moving forward.
“When we start worrying about that, then we worry about things that add to our problem and not add to a solution,” Robinson said.
Robinson said that during her time in service, as she became an air battle manager in the 1990s, there were no other female mentors in the Combat Air Forces to look toward. However, she said she was very fortunate that her male mentors were very supportive in propelling her forward.
“What they cared about, wasn’t that I was a woman, what they cared about was that I cared about doing my job, and being the best at all of that,” she said.
She said she feels that Airmen today should be taking that same approach, and when they’re seeking a mentor, they should really be looking at someone they want to resemble.
“It’s not are you a man or are you a woman, in my opinion,” she said. “Who has the traits that you relish and who has the traits that you want to be like; so that as you grow older you can share those traits to make those who work for and with you better than you.”
Conversely, Simon Sinek, British-born American author and motivational speaker who has done work with the RAND Corp., said, “There is tremendous value in serving.”
He went on to discuss the meaning behind having “an infinite mindset.”
“It’s all about constant improvement, that’s what it is,” Sinek said. “The infinite mindset is about the journey.”
Part of this journey is learning how to constantly improve not only as an individual but as a team too; and one of the most foundational aspects of a team is trust.
“You can’t build trust quickly,” Sinek said. “But what you can do is be open and honest and a part of honesty is providing regular and constructive feedback.
“Everybody wants feedback. We want to know how we’re doing,” he said. “But we don’t always receive it the same way.”
Sinek said he has known some leaders with hard personalities, but their people adore them because they put the interest of their people first.
He also shared that, “Toxic leadership isn’t always about screaming and yelling; that’s not what toxicity necessarily means. Toxicity is someone who puts themselves before their team to make decisions to advance themselves. They would rather sacrifice their people before themselves, and they don’t take the time and attention to learn how the team needs to be spoken to, or how they function best.”
Sinek ended by saying, “Make your ‘yeses’ have an impact and take care of each other.”
With rated diversity being a top priority for Air Force senior leaders, the fly-in was a way for creating a place to discuss, connect and cultivate relationships, as well as to share struggles, successes, and resources is critical to building the force.
The event also honored the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP, who as federal civil service employees played a pivotal role during World War II. Despite various members of the armed forces being involved in the creation of the program, the WASP and its members had no military standing. The WASP arrangement with the U.S. Army Air Forces ended on Dec. 20, 1944.
“The WASP was a civilian women pilots’ organization who became trained pilots who tested aircraft, ferried aircraft, and trained other pilots,” Weeks said. “These women flew over 60 million miles, transported every airframe in the military arsenal, towed targets for training, and transported essential cargo. In 1977, the WASP were granted veteran status and in 2009, with the lead of Air Force aviatrices like Col. Nicole Malachowski, they were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. These women, now in their 90’s, continue to serve as an inspiration to all of us and we’re proud to honor their legacy.”
Anyone who missed the live Facebook broadcast can watch it on the Columbus AFB Facebook page: