Night Over Afghanistan...You Go Girls!
by Capt Elizabeth Ortiz
376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
one of her songs, country singer Shania Twain croons about
all the things women do these days-they are judges, politicians,
doctors and soldiers, to name a few. Not mentioned in the
song, but occurring more frequently as the global War on
terrorism continues, is something else: female fliers in
combat missions over Afghanistan. Early on Jan 31, a KC-135
Stratotanker took off from Ganci Air Base, Kyrgyzstan, carrying
more than 180,000 pounds of fuel and an all-female crew
-- both pilots, a navigator and a boom operator.
The event marked the first all-female crew to fly an air
refueling Mission into Afghanistan from Ganci. "We've
been really lucky," said 1stLt Alison, the navigator
on board. "You don't always deploy with a lot of women.
The fact that we have four women on this deployment, and
the fact that we make up a crew is amazing." After
living with each other in the same tent for almost two months,
the women were eager to fly on the same mission. "We've
gotten along really well living together, so we were very
excited to finally be able to fly together," said Capt
Waynetta, one of the two pilots on the mission.
The women, including the other pilot, Capt Heather, and
the boom operator, Senior Airman Lyndi, are all assigned
to the 99th Air Refueling Squadron at Robins Air Force Base,
Ga. They have been deployed here since Dec 9. Once inside
the tanker, the women began their pre-flight and take-off
duties with an ease borne of plenty of experience and skill.
Most of them have deployed before, to places like Saudi
Arabia, Qatar, Iceland and Thailand.
Between the four of them, they total almost 4,000 flying
hours in the KC-135. The flight path to Afghanistan traversed
three of the "Stans." The country itself remains
a dangerous place. Just a few days before the historic flight,
coalition forces on the ground encountered the heaviest
fighting since Operation Anaconda last year. Norwegian F-16s
from Ganci dropped munitions in support from the air.
Once over Afghanistan, the crew got down to business, refueling
F-16s from the European participating air forces of Denmark,
the Netherlands and Norway. Based at Ganci, the aircraft
provide combat air support to coalition ground forces.
In the refueling world, the motto is, "Nobody kicks
ass without Tanker gas." The crew emulated that motto
when the boom operator connected two moving aircraft together
on a night with 1 percent moon illumination.
"It's awesome knowing that I'm having a direct impact
on the mission," said Lyndi on her 17th combat mission
over Afghanistan. "The fighters couldn't put bombs
on target without gas, and I'm the one who gets it to them,"
she said. More than 50,000 combat missions have been flown
in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
In all, Lyndi refueled 10 European F-16s during the flight,
off-loading 63,000 pounds of fuel. "I'm accomplishing
something with my Air Force career," said Alison. This
is especially true in the case of OEF, an operation that
more than 1,800 women support, according to the public affairs
office at Central Air Forces, the air component of U.S.
"I've always thought the greatest thing I could do
with my life was to serve my country and be willing to die
for it -- for my family, my neighbors, people I don't even
know," Waynetta said. "Now, we're here supporting
troops in Afghanistan who are defending our freedom and
way of life." Basking in the early morning sunlight,
the tanker headed back to Ganci. As the snow-capped mountains
poked out above the clouds, the women reflected on the significance
of the flight. "All we wanted was to fly together,"
said Lyndi. "I'm so excited we got to do it."
"We believe in equality," Waynetta said. "But,
the fact of the matter is, we're still girls and we're doing
something our grandmothers couldn't do.