Holloman pilot reflects on Women's History Month

  • Published
  • By the Women's History Month Committee
  • Holloman Air Force Base
Women's History Month is celebrated every March in the United Kingdom and the United States to highlight the contributions of women in history and society. Women have also played an important role in the military and stand on equal ground with their male counterparts across many career fields within the U.S. military.

Maj. Jammie Jamieson, 49th Operations Support Squadron, reflects on her time as a military officer and a pilot, and who her inspirations growing up were.

What does Women's History Month mean to you?
Women's History Month is a time to honor the contributions that women have brought to our nation. More specifically, the women who served as Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs) in World War II. It was impressive and honorable meeting many of these wonderful women, over the course of my flying career.

I had the opportunity to escort several WASPs and their families last March in Washington to be finally recognized for their service and awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in a ceremony on Capitol Hill. When you meet these women, the overwhelming sentiment is they are fiercely proud and capable Americans, who were eager to protect their neighbors and serve their country in a time of war. Most of us that serve today, regardless of our external "packaging," can certainly relate to that sentiment.

What women have inspired you to become a strong leader?
I am, in general, very inspired by the example of the WASPs and of other women who have served in the military both past and present. As far as leadership goes, that skill set is embodied in all sorts of people in the military. I am inspired by military leaders of all types, shapes, sizes, colors and backgrounds. At the end of the day we are all just people -- the "packaging" to me is irrelevant.

What experiences do you have that can serve as encouragement to other women?
One of the most encouraging experiences I have had in the military was serving in Iraq during 2009. During that time, I had the opportunity to meet with many fabulous Iraqi women. Here they were, living in a country devastated by war and civil strife, they were highly educated professionals in medicine, finance and education, and they were eager to work to build a better Iraq, despite being treated and viewed as second-class citizens in their own country. There is nothing quite like seeing the plight of women in other parts of the world that makes you thankful for the almost unrestricted opportunities women have here in America.

Tell us about your current career field and what differences, if any, exist between male and female counterparts.
I am currently serving as a military officer and F-22 fighter pilot. While the flying, training, educational and travel experiences have been awesome, the overall experience has been a challenge. The most visible difference you will see in a fighter squadron is there are extremely few women fighter pilots.

The combat exclusion, which prohibited women from service in combat aircraft, was only lifted by Congress in 1993, when I was in high school. Since then, the total number of women who have ever successfully emerged from the pilot pipeline as fighter pilots is extremely small, somewhere around 85 women in the past 18 years. Many of those have since left military service or retired. At any given time, a fighter squadron might have one or two females out of a total of more than 35 pilots. There just are not a lot of women entering the front end of the officer/pilot pipeline.

The challenge with that demographic for women currently serving is that it can be extremely professionally isolating at times, both due to a lack of female peers and a lack of female mentors in one's immediate chain of command. I've spent most of my flying career as the only female pilot in my unit, training program or chain of command. Besides working your tail off like everyone else, you have the added pressure of not having the same level of camaraderie and inclusion that the men naturally have with each other, both on and off duty. In addition, as a woman flying any aircraft with an ejection seat, you are informally prohibited from having a family while assigned to a combat squadron, as we are "advised" that pregnancy is a "disqualifying condition."

Finally, trying to serve my country while also being married to another military officer/pilot has been the hardest challenge. During the past eight years, we have only been stationed together for two and a half years. After 11 years on active duty, the accumulated family sacrifices and the informal lack of mutual support from the folks who will be side-by-side with you in combat wears on you. As a result, I am very thankful for the one time in my career where my spouse and I were stationed together and where there were other female fighter pilots in the squadron, in particular during my first couple years at the 3rd Wing in Alaska.

What advice would you give to women/girls on how to become a strong woman?
My advice is not unique to women. The question ought to be "How do you become a strong person?" In answer, it certainly doesn't happen overnight. I think one's family upbringing before adulthood has the largest role to play in the morality, confidence and character one has an adult -- at least it did for me. Most of that is shaped before any of us ever arrive in the military. Once we volunteer to serve, it is up to us to take responsibility for ourselves. I think the best you can do then is to honestly assess your strengths and weaknesses, do the hard character-building work involved in improving areas of weakness, while maximizing the positive impact of your strengths. I've found that unless I've been willing to be completely honest with myself on an area of weakness, it is impossible for me to improve in that area.

Beyond that, the next, and probably more important, task is to bring all those lessons to bear in nurturing morality, confidence, character and maturity in the next generation, whether it be through your own children or through junior professionals in the service.