Tinker notes all-woman milestone

Tinker Air Force Base and the 552nd Air Control Wing celebrated an important milestone in the organizations history on March 15.

For the first time since 1984, when women were allowed to serve in the unit, there are enough trained women in each position to form an all-woman crew for one of the AWACS (E-3) planes based at TAFB.

TSgt. Kristina Johnson, and capt. Juliana Schmitz show Nichola Lampman, 10, how the oxygen system works during the tour.
TSgt. Kristina Johnson, and capt. Juliana Schmitz show Nichola Lampman, 10, how the oxygen system works during the tour.

TSgt. Kristina Johnson, and capt. Juliana Schmitz show Nichola Lampman, 10, how the oxygen system works during the tour.To celebrate the milestone, TAFB hosted an event for Women’s History Month, showcasing a crew of women and their positions.

Visitors were invited to explore an AWACS plane and meet with crew members, who shared details on their individual positions, which range from pilots, to maintenance crew members, to weapons control and flight surveillance.

Commander of the 552nd Maintenance Group, Col. Stella Smith, met with press and visitors on the flightline for the event.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a woman or a man, all that matters is can you do your job, can you do it well,” said Smith on the ability of women in the Air Force. She believes the event opens some eyes to the fact that stereotypes of women in the military are non-existent.

“We’re not any less capable,” Lt. Col Edith Correa Perez, mission crew commander, said, “We’re all prepared the same way.”

Perez highlighted crew member SSgt. Raquel Esparza, who is currently the only female flight engineer in the wing, to point out how women are no longer bound by tradition labels.

“Those have been way phased out,” said Capt. Juliana Schmitz, “and the effect trickles down[the ranks].”

Schmitz and her fellow crew member TSgt Kristina Johnson, spoke with visitors and fielded questions on their jobs and life in the Air Force. Schmitz is an electronic combat officer, and it is her job to analyze the signatures of nearby planes and identify if the plane is friend or foe. She then relays the information to Johnson, whose job it is to maintain a clear and accurate picture of their immediate airspace.

Military members stationed on base, unfamiliar with the wing, came and asked questions at the open event, as well as civilians who brought their children to help encourage the next generation.

The AWACS plane supports missions all over the world. Currently, there are involved in South America, in counterdrug operations, and in southwest Asia, with Operation Enduring Freedom.

While some of the women are not flight ready, the 552nd hopes to see a flight with an all-woman crew in the near future, when all women are fully trained.

Originally published March 2013, Eastword News)

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