Women Flew Combat Support in Desert Storm
“In Desert Storm, women were allowed to do combat support and combat service support,” Vicky Calhoun explained in last week’s Blog. “Then into the 1990s, the Air Force let women into fighter aircraft. That helped erode the Army argument that women couldn’t fly combat aircraft.
“Now women military pilots have flown combat aircraft—Apache and H-53 helicopters, A-10 Warthogs and F-16s—in the Second Gulf War and in Afghanistan.”
Vicky Calhoun wasn’t the first woman in an Army helicopter, though she was one of the earliest. How did she get along with the men with whom she flew?
“I Had 40 Fathers, They Took Care of Me”
“I once heard a woman speak on the four roles of women: daughter, wife, mother or sister. When I joined my Chinook unit in Germany, I was young, 24 years old. I was no threat to those seasoned men. The unit in Germany took me on as the daughter. I had 40 fathers. They taught me how to fly, and they took care of me.”
After serving 20 years, Calhoun opted for retirement in 2003, closing out her career as a lieutenant colonel assigned to the Pentagon. By then, most of the first wave of women military fliers had already retired, and now the second wave—Calhoun’s generation—was making the move as well.
In her second career, Calhoun became a government contractor, once again working almost exclusively with men. “I had the same struggles as a retiree that I did as a woman entering the military,” she said. “Proving myself. There aren’t many women doing this work.”
It’s been said the clothes make the man. Vicky Calhoun learned that, in her case, the clothes made the woman. And she learned that lesson well: “My uniform gave me credibility—my ribbons, my awards, my rank. All those things speak miles to people.
“I Had to Earn My Credibility All Over Again”
“I no longer wear a uniform. A woman in our culture has very little credibility when she walks in a room. Now I’m just another woman, not LTC Calhoun. The guys in my unit in the Army knew I would pull my weight. They trusted me. The corporate world is very different. It’s a new team and a new game. I started over, and I had to earn my credibility all over again.”
In April 2011, Calhoun joined the U.S. Army Cyber Command as a civilian employee. As Army Cyber organizations have evolved, today she belongs to the Cyber Center of Excellence. She is now involved in a new and different kind of combat: cyber warfare.
During flight school Calhoun joined the then fledgling Women Military Aviators (WMA) organization, formed in the early 1980s, when young women serving as military aviators needed a social and mentoring meeting ground. Seeking guidance, the new organization sought support from the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) of World War II—the first women to fly Army airplanes. Together the two organizations got the fledgling group off the ground. After retiring from active duty in 2003, Calhoun took command of the WMA, serving as its president until 2007.
You’re In the Chinook Cockpit With Her
This writer had the good fortune to meet Vicky during her tenure as WMA president. I was invited to do a presentation at their annual meeting about my research and books on the WASP — the women pilots who helped found WMA. There, I heard Vicky speak about flying her Chinook in Desert Storm. I was spellbound. I was there in that Chinook with her.
Hers was one of the most riveting talks I have ever heard.
Much to my dismay, I did not have a tape recorder with me that day and sorely regretted not being able to tape her outstanding presentation. It took a year or so, but we finally got together at a Women in Aviation conference in Nashville. Over coffee at a local Starbucks, we talked at length and I, always the reporter, got my story.
This three-part article is the result of her talk and of that interview, many years ago.
Twin Daughters Might Become Pilots Too
Yes, “Mom” did fly in Desert Storm. Vicky is the mother of twin daughters who are turning 13 this month.
Originally published in the March 2013 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.
Sarah Byrn Rickman is the author of nine books about the WASP, with number ten due out later this year. She serves as editor of the official WASP newsletter. For more on the WMA, visit https://www.womenmilitaryaviators.com
NEWS FLASH: Sarah’s most recent book, Nancy Love: WASP Pilot, is now available as an e-Book on Amazon. Check it out!