By Capt. Elizabeth Ortiz, 376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
/ Published February 06, 2003
OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM (AFPN) -- In 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 1st Lt. Alison, the navigator on board. Last names are being withheld for operational security. "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. Central Command.
"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.