March 30, 2018 (by TSgt. Louis Vega Jr.) - On September 26, 2005, six women assigned to the 737th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron under the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing, made history and became the first all-female C-130 Hercules crew to fly in combat. More than a decade later, a few members of the group reflected on their experience.
From left to right, SSgt. Josie E. Harshe, flight engineer; Capt. Anita T. Mack, navigator; 1st Lt. Siobhan Couturier, pilot; Capt. Carol J. Mitchell, aircraft commander; and loadmasters TSgt. Sigrid M. Carrero-Perez and SrA Ci Ci Alonzo, pause in the cargo bay of their C-130 for a group photo following their historic flight. [USAF photo]
“We were just doing our everyday jobs, so there was nothing unusual about that day for us,” said Lt. Col. Carol Mitchell, 310th Airlift Squadron commander. “Frankly, we were disappointed that it was 2005 before an all-female C-130 crew flew in combat.”
Mitchell was a young captain and the aircraft commander then, and her crew included 1st Lt. Siobhan Couturier, pilot; Capt. Anita T. Mack, navigator; Staff Sgt. Josie E. Harshe, flight engineer; and loadmasters Tech. Sgt. Sigrid M. Carrero-Perez and Senior Airman Ci Ci Alonzo. The crew members were all deployed from the 43rd Airlift Wing at Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina and flew the mission on a Vietnam-era 1962 C-130.
Throughout the deployment, their missions included flying cargo and troops in and out of Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Horn of Africa. On this historic day, the crew transported 151 U.S. Marines and their equipment in and out of Iraq.
“I was happy to be doing our primary mission,” said Lt. Col. Anita Mack, Air Mobility Command deputy division chief. “‘Delivering beans and bullets on time and on target.’ We get to have a direct impact on the folks in the field bringing them the supplies needed to do their job and then flying them back to go home. There is a real sense of responsibility to do the best job you can do when people are depending on you.”
For decades, women have worked hard to get to a point where they belong inside an organization. According to Mitchell, there is a fine line between setting yourself apart as different, like the all-female crew did in 2005, versus blending into an organization.
“I want to be measured by my performance and abilities rather than my gender,” said Mack. “While it was special to be a member of this crew, I want to emphasize I have always focused on being a great navigator and officer first, rather than a woman in the Air Force.”
Because of the significance of that flight and the media attention the event earned that day, Mitchell was invited to give interviews and attend speaking engagements to talk about women in the military and specifically, in aviation. By participating in those events, she said she learned that there is still a large part of society that does not think women have the opportunities to succeed in technically, physically, or intellectually challenging occupations.
“We didn’t want an all-female crew to be unusual, we wanted it to be normal,” Mitchell said. “Unfortunately, it is not normal yet. In order to get there, we have to stand out to show the rest of the world what we are capable of.”
1st Lt. Josie Duff, 96th Medical Group registered nurse, was a flight engineer on the crew then and agreed she looks forward to when a female crew becomes the norm.
“If we want women serving in the military to be treated equally and for gender not to be an issue, then we should not put our gender in the spotlight and make it something ‘special.’”
Throughout history, many courageous women have stepped forward to fight inequality and to break down barriers for the benefit of society. The first all-female C-130 crew to fly in combat joined an elite group of women that historic day allowing future generations of women in the military to progress further.
“Young girls in particular are often surprised to learn that I’m a pilot and that therefore, they could be too,” said Mitchell. “We need to do a better job of educating society and our youth so they understand that there are no longer obstacles preventing girls from doing whatever they decide to do, even if that’s being an Air Force pilot. Brave pioneering women painstakingly removed those obstacles for us, and we need to take advantage of the opportunities they have provided.”