More than a pilot: mother and fighter

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Daniel Phelps
  • 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Many children have dreams of what they want to do or become. Some dream of becoming professional athletes, some doctors, teachers or firefighters.

For three women here their dreams of becoming fighter pilots came true. Today, they are three of the 58 female active duty fighter pilots in the Air Force.

Currently, there are 2,689 Air Force active duty fighter pilots.

Up until 1993, women were excluded from flying combat aircraft. In 1991, Congress lifted the combat ban on women in the services. They gave the final call on the roles of women to Department of Defense officials. Then, with the 1992 and 1993 Defense Authorization acts, the combat aircraft exclusion laws were repealed.

Maj. Jaime Nordin, an F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot in the 79th Fighter Squadron and one of the three here, recalled her interest in flying being sparked the first time she saw an airshow as a child.

"I was mesmerized by fighters, the idea of going fast and flying upside down," she said.

The role of Air Force fighter pilots is to maintain superiority in the air and to support the ground fight.

However, Major Nordin's mission goes beyond being just a fighter pilot; she is also the mother of 2-year-old Caleigh.

"Being a mom and a fighter pilot are both equally demanding, which makes having only 24 hours in a day hard," she said. "But, more and more I'm becoming a mom, and a fighter pilot is my trade."

She was about five to six weeks along when she found out she was pregnant.

"Because of that, I joke with my daughter that she has flown in an F-16," said the major.

Major Nordin had to take some time off from flying after that discovery.

"Between pulling high Gs and the ejection seat, flying while pregnant is a no go," she said.

"Finding out was a shock," Major Nordin continued. "I went through an identity crisis because I had to stop flying. I had to become something other than a fighter pilot. But, after a while my motherly instincts took over."

So during that time she worked in the operations support squadron at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. After the time off from the pregnancy and recovery, Major Nordin's qualifications for flying were out of date, so she had to take a regulatory class at Luke AFB, Ariz.

"During the time off I really missed flying," Major Nordin said. "It's kind of a need. I missed being in the air and the camaraderie of the squadron."

Major Nordin's husband, Maj. Cameron Nordin, the 20th Fighter Wing plans and inspections officer, is also an F-16 pilot, which presents unique challenges to the couple for raising a 2-year-old.

Major Nordin said she sometimes worries about what will happen while she's flying or in the middle of something else and can't pick Caleigh up.

"Fortunately, we have friends who are willing to step in and help us out at the drop of a hat," said the mother. "Several times we've had to cash in on them for help because of mission requirements."

There have been times where the two pilot parents have been gone for a temporary deployment at the same time and couldn't bring Caleigh. For those times, they have a family care plan in place to ensure their daughter is taken care of. Often times she will stay with her grandmother.

"Caleigh is always out there to greet us when we get back," she said. "It's always nice to see how excited she is to see us when we get back."

The two fighter pilots have not had any issues balancing their lives to take care of their daughter.

While away, they will chat with their daughter over web cam to stay involved with her.

"We've (Cameron and I) been making adjustments in our lives to make things work since day one," she said. "The busy lifestyle is the only life we know, meaning to work with these schedules, Caleigh is another piece of the puzzle. We've always had to adjust and readjust. She's always known this life."

One of the nice exceptions to their life is that have not had to miss out on any key moments in their daughter's life yet, said the mother.

"I know there are a ton of families where that is not the case, so we've been blessed in that way," she explained. "You have to learn to celebrate the ordinary."

The mom and fighter pilot said she can tell that her daughter understands what it means for her parents to be pilots.

"She can tell you what an F-16 is," said Major Nordin. "She is thrilled by them. She'll see one fly and say that's mom or dad. She enjoys sitting and watching the planes taxi down the runway. She's engulfed in it."

She has no worries for the future of her daughter, she said. She is strong headed and will succeed in life.

When it's all said and done, Major Jaime Nordin said her greatest source of pride is being able to be both a mommy and a fighter pilot.