RIVERSIDE — The room was filled with pioneers and heroes Friday evening at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
Among the distinguished guests was Col. Regina Aune, a flight nurse who saved the lives of children on the first Operation Babylift flight. That plane out of Vietnam crashed about 14 minutes after taking off from Tan Son Nhut Air Base en route to Clark AB, Philippines.
Standard bearers for the ceremony included five of the first ten female graduates of Undergraduate Pilot Training school, whose uniforms are displayed in the museum.
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Joanne Bass, Space Force Director of Staff Lt. Gen. Nina Armagno, and Air Force Materiel Command Executive Director Ms. Patricia Young were guest speakers for the event.
These and many other female airmen, who donned the uniform of the United States Air Force both past and present, gathered to celebrate the official opening of Women in the Air Force: From Yesterday into Tomorrow.
Guests and their families were able to tour exhibits dedicated to female pioneers who shaped the course of Air Force history, including a display dedicated to Esther Blake. Blake was the first woman to serve in the US Air Force, who signed up for the service in the first hour of the first day that she was able to do so.
“Since that moment, women have been an integral part of our Force,” said John Roth, Acting Secretary of the Air Force in a virtual presentation to those gathered. “It is fitting that their story is now prominently featured alongside other key artifacts that shaped our history.”
Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, commander of USAF Air Mobility Command, said that the exhibit and the moment was not just for women with ‘firsts’ and ‘onlys’ in their titles, but the women who continue to shape the future of the Air and Space Forces, both officer and enlisted. “They didn’t set out to break barriers,” said . They set out to do what they love and be the best at it. And they changed the world along the way.”
The exhibit is a combination of living history and past experience, and curators and Air Force leaders have confidence that the stories of women who have broken through barriers will inspire young women and girls for years to come.
The entire exhibit took careful work over the course of two years. The museum had originally scheduled the opening for March 2020. March of last year signified Women’s History Month in the centennial of the 19th amendment, which extended women the right to vote.
Existing exhibits, such as that of the WASPs in the World War II gallery, were updated and incorporated into the larger exhibit, according to museum curator Christina Douglass.
Curators and Air Force leaders are hoping that the exhibits will inspire future generations of women and girls to serve their country. Armagno’s advice for young girls: look up.
“See the reflection of yourself in these women’s faces. Understand that if you dream big, and work hard, anything is possible,” she said.
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