First US military woman in space reveals secrets of success

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Samantha Saulsbury
  • 460th Space Wing Public Affairs
From becoming the first U.S. military woman in space to commanding a Numbered Air Force, Lt. Gen. Susan Helms, former 14th Air Force commander, revealed the secrets of her success to the men and women of Buckley Air Force Base during a Women's History Month address March 21.

She addressed reaching for opportunities, the importance of having a positive attitude and the power of women believing in themselves.

"This is my favorite kind of speech to give," Helms said. "It gives me a chance to talk to other women and give you some good advice. Women's History Month is a chance to reflect on the past, along with a chance to inspire people who are going to be making history in the future."

Helms' father was a Vietnam War helicopter pilot who she credits as her biggest inspiration in her decision to join the military. By the time she was applying to college, Congress changed the law to allow women to apply to the U.S. Air Force Academy.

"I wanted to be in the Air Force just like my dad for as long as I could remember," Helms said. "It was one of the few places in the 70s you could get equal work for equal pay."

Helms is amazed by the many opportunities that have become open to women within the past few decades, saying there is nothing women can't overcome.

"When I got out of the astronaut corps, it was wonderful to see how broadly the military had become integrated," Helms remembered. "By then we had female Thunderbird pilots, female fighter pilots... there really isn't a job that isn't fully integrated. It's wonderful to see how the military embraced that and valued the diversity of both genders."

Helms continued her education at Stanford University after graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy, where she met her hero and role model, Sally Ride, the first woman in space.

"When she spoke, she was super normal; was the thing that astounded me," Helms, who has performed the longest space walk for nearly 9 hours, said. "She was just an ordinary person in an extraordinary circumstance. Heroes are who you want them to be. They're not necessarily what the media or pop culture puts in front of you. Meeting her made me realize that's she's just a human being. That's when I think I realized what was possible."

Helms' mother and father made sure she and her sisters know they could accomplish anything, refusing to set up boundaries because they were female. Speaking highly of the strong people that pushed her to be everything she is today, she remembers how important it is to be a great role model, especially to a young child.

"Whether you know it or not, you have no idea the sheer influence you can have on someone," Helms stressed. "Your impact on this world can be very surprising. You never know how something you say is going to end up resonating and sticking with the people. Remember that it takes 10 positive comments to balance out one negative."

Helms, a flight engineer before becoming an astronaut, stressed the importance of loving what you do and keeping a positive attitude.

"If you do something you really enjoy and have a passion for it, you're going to be really good at it," Helms said. "The power of your dreams and the power of your goals and commitments is what really end up creating those opportunities.

"Part of it is luck, part of it is timing, but part of it is being ready," Helms said. "Set yourself up for when those opportunities reveal themselves," she said.