Academy Officer Shares Her Air Force Story
(March 29, 2010)
Maj. Melissa May (right) receives a book and 21st Space Wing memento from Col. Joan Sandene during the Women's History Month luncheon March 17, 2010, at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. Major May, a senior F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot who earned a Distinguished Flying Cross medal for a 2003 mission over Baghdad, was the luncheon's guest speaker. Currently, she is an air officer commanding, or AOC, for Cadet Squadron 21 at the Air Force Academy. Colonel Sandene is a 21st SW individual mobilization augmentee.
||PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (3/24/2010 - AFNS) -- Maj.
Melissa May was at a holiday party with her squadron at
Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, a few years ago when another
officer sidled up to her.
"What are you doing?" he said. "You shouldn't be wearing
lipstick. You need to decide, either you're a fighter pilot
or you're a chick."
She smiled and took that as a huge compliment, she said.
It just so happens that she is both and loves it. In a
humorous and inspiring commentary, Major May told her Air
Force career story March 17 at the 21st Space Wing's Women's
History Month luncheon. The luncheon was one of five events
here, including a five-kilometer run/walk and a health fair,
to celebrate Women's History Month during March.
Major May, the air officer commanding, or AOC, for Cadet
Squadron 21, is a self-described regular girl
who has had an
opportunity to do exceptional things. The story of how she became a fighter
pilot began in 1991 when she was a first-year cadet at the U.S. Air Force
Academy. Major May chose the Academy because she had a penchant for adventure
and hoped she might get to jump out of an airplane.
"I didn't know anything about the military," she said. She
could name only one aircraft, an F-16 Fighting Falcon, she
said. But when an instructor asked a group of cadets what
they wanted to be, one by one they said, "Sir, I want to be
a pilot." Not wanting to stand out, she yelped, "Sir, I want
to be a pilot." And she named the only aircraft she could
remember: "F-16s, sir."|
"You'd better scrap that dream," he told her.
Major May graduated from the Academy, married a classmate
and served as an intelligence officer. Every day she briefed
pilots about defensive maneuvers. They took her information
and went out and executed, she said. She did an about face
into a cubicle with no windows.
"After a while, I was like, 'This stinks! Why do they get to
do that? I want to do that,'" she said.
Timing is everything. In 1997 the Air Force needed more
pilots and she got her shot. Her husband, Maj. Mike May,
took advantage of this need as well, and both attended pilot
training school within six months of each other, followed by
F-16 training. This was four years after Congress changed
the rule to allow women to fight in combat. Still, Major May
was the only woman in her F-16 training class.
"It was pretty eye-opening," she said. "It was definitely a
man's world at the time. I had some instructors who
definitely thought women should not be in fighters."
Fast forward to March 20, 2003, the first night of Operation
Iraqi Freedom. Major May's team was given the mission to
destroy several missile sites. Both that mission, and
another that followed four days later were successful, and
she earned the Distinguished Flying Cross medal.
"It was neat to think that 10 years prior, women weren't
flying combat at all," Major May said. "And here they were
trusting me to take out a brand new lieutenant and fly
across the border into Baghdad on night one."
She teases her husband, whose squadron was on its Air and
Space Expeditionary Force rotation overseas just prior to
Operation Iraqi Freedom, that when the war started they
brought in her squadron, "the A team."
"When we have grandchildren some day and they say, 'So
Grandpa, what did you do in the war?' he can say he was back
home hosting coffees while Grandma went over, dropped bombs
and took out missiles."
A few years ago, the Mays decided it was time to start their
family. When Major May became pregnant, people wanted to
know if she would get out of the Air Force. It never crossed
her mind, she said. Everyday moms make tough family and
career decisions and she did too.
"A thought that went through our minds is that it's great
for our son to see his mom and dad doing equal jobs and we
are so happy with our jobs," she said. "It's important for
him to see his parents working hard and having a complete
passion for our careers."
Next stop for the Mays is Aviano AB, Italy, where there will
be new adventures for them with deployments and childcare,
"It will not be easy," she added. "We'll do our best to give
100 percent to everything. We'll figure it out."
But she is certain of this: when a female cadet today says
she wants to fly F-16s, nobody laughs or tells her to scrap
that dream. Today, women make up 19.4 percent of the active
duty Air Force and 4.3 percent of pilots, according to the
Air Force Personnel Center. Major May, just by telling her
story, aims to get those numbers even higher.
"I'm the first officer these cadets get to know and meet and
hear about the Air Force," she said. "For all they know,
there are a thousand female fighter pilots and that's the
way it's always been."
Sixteen-year-old Chandra Sundaram, who attended the Women's
History Month luncheon with her parents, said she was
inspired by Major May's comments and that she wants to be a
pilot. Chandra is enrolled in the engineering track at her
high school and has her sights on the Colorado School of
Mines. In sixth grade, she learned she had 20/20 vision, and
her mom said that she could be a pilot.
"I thought that was the coolest thing ever," she said
By Monica Mendoza|
21st Space Wing Public Affairs
USAF photo by Dennis Howk
Air Force News Service
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| Distinguished Flying Cross Recipients |