WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. (AFNS) --
From Waco CG-4A gliders during World War II to the arrival of the U.S.’s first stealth bomber, the B-2 Spirit, Whiteman Air Force Base has played host to a plethora of historic moments in military aviation.
One milestone at Whiteman AFB was the first all-female Minuteman missileer crew.
Retired Col. Linda Aldrich was one of the first women to break through the glass ceiling, or in this case glass floor, and serve on an all-female Minuteman II missile crew underground in the mid-1980s.
As a missileer, she was responsible for managing and running the nation's ballistic missile operations while developing plans for the weapon systems future.
“The world was much different when I joined,” Aldrich said. “When the idea of a mixed gender or even all-female crew in the Minuteman came about, there was still a lot of bias that pushed back against us.”
Aldrich and the other female missileers were previously part of crews from other weapon platforms, like the Titan II, before coming to the Minuteman. She said they experienced discrimination from the moment they arrived at Whiteman AFB.
“I would occasionally find notes stuck on my windshield when I would come off alert that were very unkind,” Aldrich said. “They would say, ‘We don't want you here,’ and other similar opinions, followed by name calling.”
She said most of the derision came not from her male counterparts but from their spouses, who didn’t like the idea of women being underground in tight spaces with their husbands.
The community sentiment was only one obstacle for Aldrich and her peers. All-female crews were at a disadvantage because both female crewmembers were new to the Minuteman weapon system. Aldrich said, the male missileers had previous experience with the system but women couldn’t work in the silos with men, so they couldn’t train together.
Although the road was bumpy for Aldrich and other female trailblazers, she doesn’t regret the journey.
“I may not have recognized it at the time but I was extremely blessed to have been given that opportunity,” she said, “I say in jest, ‘We were guinea pigs,’ but it was a phenomenal opportunity that opened doors for me for the rest of my career.”
The path that the first female missileers blazed helped lead the way for the current generation of Strikers.
“I'm so proud of the direction that we've gone in,” said Capt. Katelyn Woodley, 90th Operations Support Squadron, Operations Group liaison at F.E. Warren Air Force Base. “We’ve gotten to the point where we push each other forward, so you can be the most professional Airman and the best missileer you can, regardless of gender.”
While mandated single-gender crews have become a thing of the past, the mission for missileers is the same, Woodley said. The focus is making sure the weapon system is being taken care of and that weapons in the field are safe, secure and lethal.
The addition of women to the career field has been a force multiplier, which has enhanced the missileer mission. That wouldn’t have been possible with the work of Aldrich and other female pioneers.
“We opened the door and created an opportunity that didn't exist before,” Aldrich said. “What makes me proud is that the door didn't close after us. A lot of people were able to serve in a career field that they wouldn't have been able to before.”
With new opportunities presented to female Airmen, new solutions to accomplishing the mission followed.
“Diversity provides different communication styles, different perspectives, and different leadership styles that are needed to take care of our nation and our nuclear force,” Woodley said. “I'm proud to serve within our career field. We know the gravity of our mission, and we’re here to champion that.”