Women’s History Month in the United States began as Women’s History Week in 1982. The event was expanded to the entire month of March in 1987. Throughout the past month, the Smithsonian Institution and the National Air and Space Museum, have sponsored many events for Women’s History Month. On March 28, 1988, just the second official Women’s History Month, an all-female Air Force flight crew flew a Lockheed C-5 Galaxy across the Atlantic Ocean to commemorate the month.
The C-5 crew that flew from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware consisted of 17 women from the 436th Military Airlift Wing and the 512th Military Airlift Wing (Reserve-Associate), as well as two artists and a photographer. The commander of the flight was Captain Gayle I. Westbrook, who had already made Dover history as the wing’s first female C-5 pilot in 1985. Two years later, she was the first female C-5 pilot to be certified as an aircraft commander.
The seven day airlift mission for the C-5 crew took them from Dover to Charleston Air Force Base, South Carolina; RAF Mildenhall, United Kingdom; Incirlik Air Base, Turkey; and, finally, to Rhein-Main Air Base in Germany.
These women followed a similar flight path to the Air Force’s first all-female flight crew to fly an overseas mission in May 1983 (just one year after the first Women’s History Week). Seven women from the 18th Military Airlift Squadron flew a Lockheed C-141B from McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey, to Lajes Field in the Azores, completing the flight at Rhein-Main Air Force Base. The exercise, in addition to evacuating seriously ill American service personnel and family from West Germany to treatment in Washington, DC, was designed to demonstrate the importance and growing presence of women in airborne operations.
In a New York Times article, Capt Guiliana Sangiorgio, the commander of the mission, stated: “I don’t know if this earns us a place in the ‘Guinness Book of World Records,’ but it’s a big first for the service, and certainly a big accomplishment for us.” She continued, “But the novelty of women flying will wear off in time, and we’ll be better off when it does.”
Copilot 1st Lieutenant Terri Ollinger reflected, “The Air Force has come a long way in accepting women in job fields where only men have been considered in the past. The Air Force has a long way to go yet in continuing to place women in positions of responsibility and career fields, but everything has to start with a crawl before it can move on to a run.” Thirty years later, in 2016, it has just been announced that Air Force General Lori Robinson has been nominated to head U.S. Northern Command, the first American woman to ever head a combatant command.