A Female Fighter Pilot's Journey
by U.S. Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Mercedee Wilds
May 25, 2022
Twenty-nine years ago, The Honorable Les Aspin, the Secretary of Defense at the time, stood before the United States on live television and made the announcement that would change the future of women in the military.
Lt. Col. Jennifer Ovanek, an A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot with the Idaho Air National Guard’s 190th Fighter Squadron, was 16 at the time and one of the many young girls watching history unfold before their eyes.
Lt. Col. Jennifer Ovanek, an A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot with the Idaho Air National Guard's 190th Fighter Squadron, conducts a preflight inspection outside of the aircraft prior to take-off at Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho on March 13, 2022. Ovanek is the 11th female to fly the A-10. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Joseph Morgan.)
“It was really big news,” said Ovanek. “Women were allowed to fly in combat, finally. I remember watching it on T.V. It changed my life.”
Ovanek started her love of aviation when she was very young. Her father was an A-7 Corsair II and F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot in the U.S. Air Force and New Mexico Air National Guard. He took Ovanek on her first flight when she was just two days old, and eventually taught her how to fly.
“I always wanted to fly the A-10, it was my dream aircraft in my dream location,” said Ovanek.
At first, women being brought into the fighter pilot community wasn't with welcoming arms, said Ovanek.
“I had to be 25% better than the men in order to get the same recognition to the same level as the men,” said Ovanek. “I wasnt really accepted until after I dropped bombs in combat and after that, it changed. Then it started incrementally changing for the rest of my career.”
Only approximately 20% of pilots in the military are female, and only about .001% of those are fighter pilots. Ovanek said she was the 11th female to fly the A-10. Percentage wise, she said, someone is more likely to be a left handed major league baseball pitcher than to be a female fighter pilot.
“Now-a-days, it's much more accepted,” said Ovanek. “If you can see her, you can be her.”
When Ovanek speaks of her trials to the newer pilots, it’s a foreign concept to them.
Lt. Col. Jennifer Ovanek, an A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot with the Idaho Air National Guard's 190th Fighter Squadron, conducts a preflight inspection in the aircraft's cockpit prior to take-off at Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho on March 13, 2022. Ovanek is the 11th female to fly the A-10. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Joseph Morgan.)
“They are absolutely shocked that I would get treated like that,” said Ovanek. “Because to them, it wasn't weird, it was normal that women could do anything they wanted to do.”
Ovanek said, the world is so willing to give anyone a chance, that it’s a wonderful time to be a woman or a minority.
For the past 29 years, female fighter pilots have had their growing pains and met their trials head on. Today, women continue to strengthen and diversify the Air National Guard thanks to the Trailblazers that came before them.
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