How one group of Air Force women progressed leadership equality

The next class of graduates in the U.S. Air Force Airman Leadership School take their diplomas tonight in Louisville, Tenn., August 26, in a banquet at the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center.

There are women in the ranks but few will pay a mixed-gender class much attention, even on Women’s Equality Day.

That’s partly because enlisted women in leadership studies is hardly out of the ordinary; in fact, it’s common at what is the Air Force’s largest and longest running enlisted professional military education center.

Women on this campus are as much groundbreakers in that equality as others the nation honors today.

The day celebrates women’s right to vote, but achievements beyond that are also celebrated. The Women’s Armed Services Integration Act in 1948 and public laws in 1967 and 1976 were also big enablers for women in the military.

The integration act gave women the right to serve in the military outside of wartime, but, unlike today, they could not serve on ships or aircraft or in combat. The law in 1967 took away promotion restrictions and the limits on their numbers. In 1976 they entered the military academies.

Women were students here during the first year of enlisted leadership school, in 1970, but they served as Women in the Air Force or WAFs.

The WAF program ended in 1976. Women then joined the class ranks at a steady increase throughout the 1970s and 1980s – past flight photos show this very well.

Their unequal ratio did not, however, deter them from stepping forward and distinguishing themselves in enlisted professional military education. Matter of fact, the year women first arrived on campus set a mark not broken for some time.

The November 1970 Airman leadership school class was the Air Force’s largest single graduation of WAFs in a leadership school at the time.

“Of the more than 1,000 WAF assigned and employed in a wide range of career fields in AFCS, it is significant that 22 of 38 graduates here are WAF,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Albert R. Sheily, then the Air Force Communications Service vice commander, during the graduation.

Not so strange is the fact that many of that class’s top award winners were WAFs assigned under Sheily’s command. In particular, Airman 1st Class Patricia J. Brennan from Maxwell AFB, Ala., was the recipient of three top awards: Honor Graduate, Academic Achievement, and Distinguished Graduate.

Airman 1st Class Evelyn Algarin from Richards-Gebaur Air Reserve Station, Mo., earned the Class Spokesman Award. Sgt. Lucis A. Cherry from Andrews Air Force Base, Md., was the Honor Flight commander. Sgt. Diane Coup from Sheppard Air Force, Texas; Sgt. Debra J. Dobbins from Travis Air Force Base, Calif.; Airman 1st Class Barbara j. Short from the 1968th Communications Squadron, S.C., were all Distinguished Graduates.

We should celebrate these women for their determination, as well as celebrate others who gradually transformed women’s equality to what the campus now enjoys. Congratulate those women in the ranks of leadership graduates tonight too.

Photo: U.S. Air Force file photo

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