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919 SOW’s first female Airman reflects on career

Ann Avant, the first female non-prior service enlisted Airman at Duke Field, Fla., put a career of nearly four decades of military and federal civilian service behind her as she retired Dec. 4.    The Defuniak Springs, Fla., native launched her career in 1972 when the base's 919th Special Operations Wing was in its infancy. (U.S. Air Force photo/Adam Duckworth)

Ann Avant, the first female non-prior service enlisted Airman at Duke Field, Fla., put a career of nearly four decades of military and federal civilian service behind her as she retired Dec. 4, 2010. The Defuniak Springs, Fla., native launched her career in 1972 when the base's 919th Special Operations Wing was in its infancy. (U.S. Air Force photo by Adam Duckworth)

DUKE FIELD, Fla. (AFNS) --

Ann Avant was unsure what to do after graduating high school and one day took a trip with her dad to visit the newly established 919th Tactical Airlift Group at Duke Field. Before the trip was over, Avant had enlisted in the United States Air Force. Little did she know that she had just made history by becoming the first non-prior service enlisted female in the 919th Special Operations Wing.

“I am so thankful my dad took me over there because it ended up being the best decision for me,” Avant said. “I spent over half my life at Duke Field.”

Avant joined the 919th TAG in 1972 when the Air Force looked very different for women. Less than 3% of the Air Force was female and the Women in the Air Force program separated women from men in their training, uniforms and career opportunities.

“I did not realize how significant it was that I was the first non-prior service female (at the 919th TAG) until I got a call from a Pensacola radio station asking how it felt to be the first,” Avant said.

Being the first and one of the only women in the 919th TAG also created some unique situations when she first joined.

“When I went in for my physical, I was the only female standing in line,” Avant said. “The first order for us was to strip to the waist. Everyone looked at me and I thought ‘Uh oh.’ It did not take but a few seconds before Master Sgt. Hilliard started waving his hands at me and saying, ‘Not you, not you.’”

After completing basic training, Avant began working in the administrative career field. She later worked in the Air Reserve Technician program as quality force chief where she remained until she retired from the military. She then worked in personnel as a civilian until she retired from civil service in 2010.

“Ann was one of the most helpful people I know,” said Chief Master Sgt. Laurie Kent, 919th Special Operations Force Support Squadron superintendent. “She always had a positive attitude and helped out wherever needed or called upon.”

Avant witnessed the 919th TAG transition to the 919th Special Operations Group and finally become the 919th SOW. She also saw all four of the
C-130 Hercules models the 919th SOW supported retire during her 38-year career at Duke Field.

Avant worked alongside her brother and father at the 919th SOW. Her father, already in the Air Force when she enlisted, joined the 919th TAG while she was in basic training. Her brother left the Army National Guard to join the 919th TAG after hearing about the loadmaster jobs.

“I think I was the guinea pig to test the waters for them,” Avant said. “We were the first family unit for the 919th, and it was good having them there.”

Though Avant made history by being the first woman to enlist into the 919th SOW, she is just one of many to enjoy a fulfilling lifelong career as a part of the wing.

“I am so grateful for all the opportunities that I was given at Duke Field,” Avant said. “I know I am a better person for having worked alongside the people I did. I made friendships that have enriched my life and met people I will never forget.”

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