America’s Military Women Defy Convention On March 9, 2010 I stood at the base of the swooping spires of the Air

Force Memorial and sobbed as the screaming jets flew over in the missing (wo)man formation. A lone voice sang the national anthem and one-by-one, 38 roses were laid in the center of the memorial. The tribute was the first ever for 38 WWII Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) who died serving their country in that war. They would never know that the next day, March 10, I would join my siblings, representing our Mother, Mary Reineberg Burchard, for the ceremony to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the 1,074 women who collectively flew 60 million air miles domestic wartime duty. The 38 women would never know that once disbanded in December 1944, women would not be allowed in the cockpits of military plans until the late 70s. Inspired by Amelia Earhart's flying feats, 12 year old Mary Reineberg stood up in her class at St. Mary's Elementary School and announced, "I'm going to be an aviatrix!" During the early part of World War II, Mary got her pilot's license through the national defense program. Out of 25,000 applicants, Mary was one of 1,830 accepted into the Women Air Force Service Pilots training. Only 1,074 women earned their wings after training and Mary was one of them. Mary was a test pilot on the AT-6, an advanced trainer plane that was the essential part of training men for combat. Above the Arizona desert she put these planes through hammerhead stalls, barrel rolls, loops and other gut-wrenching maneuvers to diagnose problems. Her WASP dream came to an end with the sudden order to deactivate all the women military pilots to make jobs for the men who were not needed in great numbers in combat. Mary wanted to continue serving her country so she joined the Red Cross and served in southern Italy for 18 months. The desire to fly never left her. Even within weeks of her passing in January, 2012, whenever Mary heard a plane she'd scan the sky, shake her fist and say, "You lucky stiff!" Like Mary, the WASP defied convention, believing that it was not gender but rather their service, skill and dedication that would make a difference to their country. And it did. On March 4, 2012 I went to Washington, DC to address the 25th Annual Sea Service Leadership Association Women’s Leadership Symposium. It’s the largest gathering in the United States of women in uniform from all branches. Like their sisters, the WASP, all these women come to support each other in the recognition of the worthiness of their work and the determination to defy conventional thought and bias. Through the power of the collective, individuals make history: Army Lt. General Ann Dunwoody becomes the first woman promoted to four-star in 2008. First Lady Michelle Obama christened the Coast Guard Cutter Stratton in 2010, named in honor of Captain Dorothy Stratton, Director of the SPARS during WWII.


In 2011, Lt. General Patricia D. becomes the first woman and nurse to be appointed as the 43rd Army Surgeon General. Lt. Col Nicole Malachowski, the first female Thunderbird pilot, now commands the 333rd Fighter Squadron at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina.

History is made by women and men who are willing to step forward and make a difference in their corner of the world. Because the military has been such a dominant male bastion, the rise of women to greater roles and responsibilities serves as a hallmark to possibilities. Join me in celebrating the contribution of women from the past as we look forward to what women can accomplish in the future. © 2012, McDargh Communications. Publication rights granted to all venues so long as article and by-line are reprinted intact and all links are made live. Eileen McDargh is a Hall of Fame speaker, business consultant and an expert in all aspects of resiliency. Visit to discover and celebrate the accomplishments of women from the past, present and future. To discover how Eileen can help your organization and people become more resilient visit

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