Friday, July 17, 2009

Female Pilot Proud of WASP Legacy -- Dateline Balad

Monday, 06 July 2009
Female Pilot Proud of WASP Legacy
By Staff Sgt. Dilia Ayala
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing RSS

BALAD — It's been more than 60 years since the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) took the skies by storm as the first women in U.S. history trained to fly American military aircraft, overcoming inequality and changing the face of aviation forever.

July 1, these aviation pioneers were recognized by President Barack Obama, who presented the Congressional Gold Medal as long-overdue recognition of the historical "Fly Girls."

Here at Joint Base Balad, a 21st-century "Fly Girl," Maj. Gina Sabric, an F-16 fighter pilot, couldn't be more pleased with the recognition.

"I think it is amazing that they were presented [with the Congressional Gold Medal]," said Sabric, currently deployed here as the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing flight safety officer from Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. "It is definitely well-deserved and probably a little overdue, but it is amazing that they are finally being recognized for their service to our country.

"They are definitely pioneers in aviation and an inspiration to those of us that fly now," she continued. "We would not be here if it wasn't for the work that they did before us. They paved the way and opened up doors for the rest of us."

The WASP was established during World War II with the primary mission of flying non-combat military missions in the United States, thus freeing their male counterparts for combat missions overseas. They were the first women ever to fly American military aircraft, and they flew almost every type of aircraft operated by the Army Air Force during World War II -- logging more than 60 million miles.

Overall, more than 1,000 women joined the WASP and 38 of them were killed during duty. Following World War II, these women were released from duty and returned home. During their time in the WASP, they held civilian status and were not considered members of the military. Their contributions went largely unrecognized and the women weren't afforded veteran status until 1977.

Today, female fighter pilots continue adding to the proud WASP legacy -- engaged around the world and writing aviation history of their own. Although they did not have to face the same type of discrimination, even in the early 90s when Congress authorized women to be fighter pilots and when Sabric joined the Air Force, the rift between the female and male fighter pilots was still evident.

"When I was a lieutenant, there weren't a lot of females ahead of us," said Sabric. "I was told a few times that I didn't belong and it was a 'boy's club' and girls were not welcome, but you would just shrug it off and go on doing your job. You don't see that anymore; we are all equal. Gender is no longer an issue thanks to these women.

"Women in aviation has definitely been a stepping-stone progression, one that the WASP started," said Sabric. "Without them, it would have been a longer, tougher road. They set the stage for the rest of us to be able to continue what they started."

The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest and most distinguished award Congress can award a civilian. Since the American Revolution, Congress has commissioned gold medals as its highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions. In 2000 and 2006, Congress awarded the Gold Medal to the Navajo Code Talkers and the Tuskegee Airmen, respectively.

"As a female pilot, the women of the WASP are our heroes," said Sabric, from Tobyhanna, Pa. "They are who we look up to. They are the pioneers. Looking back on what these women have accomplished, it's great to see them recognized. We are forever grateful."

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