She lets out an exuberant laugh as she describes the box shape of her first uniform. She recalls thinking she looked like the cartoon character Gumby. There is a light in her eyes as she reminisces about the past. Col. Barbara Chine, U.S. Air Force retired, joined the Air Force September 24, 1979, a time when women were beginning to serve in traditionally male career fields and had to endure many challenges female Airmen of today don't face.
“Men had not supervised women,” said Chine. “I had some burly ol' master sergeants who really kind of scuffed me around.”
You could see the determination and spirit in her face as she described how she would be told to go shine boots and sometimes even be called ugly when her uniform wasn't perfect.
Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Barbara Chine commissioned as an aircrew training officer. She experienced many challenges as a woman in a traditionally male career field. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Airman 1st Class Ryan Sparks - March 11, 2016)
Chine had a degree in teaching and was commissioned as an aircrew training officer. She said that most aircrew Airmen had never worked with women.
Chine said she understood that the men had never worked with women and needed to learn how to supervise women. She also felt women needed to learn how to work with the men in these new career fields and it sometimes seemed like the blind leading the blind.
“They were very hard on me because they wanted me to do well,” said Chine.
She said one of the biggest hurdles the Air Force faced when integrating women into more career fields was having the proper infrastructure for female hygiene. She recalled a time when there were only male restrooms and some of them only had urinals.
“Those are the kinds of things a lot of you might take for granted that other women have gone before you so you don't have to put up with it,” said Chine. “We had to look at a man and say, ‘those need to go, sir!'”
Chine said she rarely felt treated differently because she was a woman.
“It evolved slowly but surely as women began doing more and more and teaching our men what we needed,” said Chine.
Chine noticed a great change later in her career during one of her two stints at Grand Forks AFB. She was one of three female commanders in the 319th Air Refueling Wing and felt that for the first time she could really be heard. She said it speaks volumes about the base commander who hired them.
“What a strong man it takes to hire three women,” said Chine.
Over her entire career she said the biggest change she noticed was the Air Force “opening the door and letting women have a chance to succeed and stand next to her fellow man and just do the job.”
Chine learned a lot in her Air Force career and wants female Airmen to be successful.
March 9, 2016 - Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Barbara Chine stands with her shadow box in Grand Forks, N.D. Chine spent 25 years in the Air Force and experienced many challenges when the Air Force integrated women into new career fields traditionally reserved for men. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ryan Sparks)
“I recommend to any woman to be competent. Go and find the best in your unit and take good counsel and good mentorship,” said Chine. “The Air Force can't afford to have anyone that's not great at their job. The job is too important.”
Chine said she has worked with many extraordinary women and they have all made it to their position the same way.
“The most successful women in our military today have gotten there because they have worked hard,” said Chine.
Chine and many other women experienced challenges and pushed through them so that the Air Force would be better for the next generation. She wants today's Air Force women to work hard and not take their situation for granted.
“Figure it out, be competent, be skilled and don't expect any favors because you are a woman and by all means don't use your femininity to get you anything because it will get you a dime and a cup of coffee in the end,” said Chine.
By U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Ryan Sparks
Provided through DVIDS
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