To understand a recent trend in the Utah Air National Guard, you need to meet flight crew members - like 1st Lt. Holly Nagie and Capt. Denise Schofield.
Nagie became the 151st Air Refueling Group's first woman pilot when she joined the Salt Lake-based unit July 25. Schofield is the unit's first and only woman navigator.There are differences in the two women's reasons for choosing military service as a part-time career. But they agree the novelty of having women in the cockpit is dwindling as the length of their service increases, as more women don uniforms, and as perceptions about job ability in these positions are weighted more to a person's intellect than their gender.
"It's what you have up here," Nagie said, tapping her finger on her temple. "If I had wanted to be a sumo wrestler, then it would have been a problem."
Skill, hydraulics and electronics are what keep the unit's 140-ton KC-135 aerial refueling tankers aloft. Weighing 40 pounds more or being a man wouldn't make the job any easier, she said.
Both crew members flew training missions on a deployment to Spain their unit completed Saturday. During the deployment, the crew members flew conventional NATO missions over several European countries and over the Mediterranean Sea, refueling B-52 bombers and various fighter aircraft stationed in Europe.
Nagie logged 1,300 hours as a private and commuter-line pilot and flight instructor before joining the Arizona National Guard in 1985. Nagie said five women were in her class at military flight school. Some classes had more women - some had none. "The first women weren't inducted to Air Force pilot training until 1976," she said. "The Air Force is changing, but it takes time."
Schofield has been in the Air Guard 15 years, working on a technical crew and then in maintenance before she decided to go back to school and become a navigator eight years ago.
Her part-time job as a navigator gives her time to help her husband, Rob, with his business and raise their 7-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter. "It's a good job as far as my kids go. If I need a day off for something special, they don't schedule me (to fly)."
Schofield travels the world when working, and the other members of the unit know what to expect when they arrive for temporary duty overseas. "Just ask anybody and they'll tell you I'm a shopper."
Schofield's children are used to Mom's green uniform. They have never flown with her on a tanker, so their understanding of her job is still developing. "My boy told his friends his mom was an alligator. When a plane would go over the house they would say `there's Mom.' "
The family also understands the potential for a wartime mission. "My husband knows that when the horn blows, I'm gone."
Nagie is a newlywed who met her husband, Kevin, in flight school. He is an F-16 pilot stationed at Hill Air Force Base.
Nagie can often arrange her flying schedule so she and her husband are away from home at the same time. "That way one of us isn't stuck at home while the other is gone."
Nagie's father was a Navy pilot, and the love for flying has rubbed off on all of the children. "We grew up around airplanes. There were planes on the wallpaper when we were growing up."
Her younger brother is a commercial pilot, and her two older sisters are flight attendants.
Aagie said her father instilled in his children a sense of determination. She learned to fly as a teenager just for him. If there were roadblocks in her career development because she was a woman, "I was too busy to notice them."