Posted by: annemartinfletcher | November 10, 2010

Ten Reasons to Stay at USAFA

Mike Joyal, a recently-retired USAFA graduate,  asked me what my diary listed as “Ten Reasons to Stay” at the Air Force Academy. I wrote this list during the Fall Academic Semester in 1976, when I was a member of the first class that included women. Most of the reasons are fairly mundane, such as “money” and “security.” The decisive factors, however, were the reasons that stressed my individuality.*

Civilians often assume the military does not foster individuality. My experience, however, is that  stripping a person of their outward appearance, their family background, their posturing, and their economic background, spotlights that person’s unique talents and personality.

Here are my reasons for staying at the Academy, Copyright 2010 by Anne Martin Fletcher. Please include the copyright notice if you forward these:

“Reasons to Stay:

  1. Cross-country [Team] next year*
  2. I’m doing something unique and new and real and hard*
  3. I get unhappy and depressed no matter where I am
  4. To prove something to the John Schultz’s of the world*
  5. To please Coach Williams [my high school biology teacher and cross-country coach, and a source of inspiration to me]
  6. To be different [not from other cadets, but from general society]*
  7. Security
  8. To be Indoor Track Captain*
  9. Track and Cross-country count twice because of the [high quality] coaching I’m getting
  10. I might feel differently after Thanksgiving
  11. Money”

Okay, so maybe I couldn’t count late at night when I was a Doolie (or “Dolie” as the women were often called).

As a reminder, Title Nine, the legislation that required universities to create varsity athletic programs for women, had just passed. Most colleges across the country delayed implementing Title IV as long as they could. Imagine, no track, basketball, soccer, or softball teams for women who chose to go to a college. Female varsity college athletes were rare and unique.

As another reminder, at the time I wrote these reasons, the Air Force did not train women to be pilots. If I knew that I would learn to fly jets, I am sure that would have been number one on the list.

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Responses

  1. Anne, thanks for posting these. While I know you had some bad experiences there, I hope overall USAFA was a worthwhile endeavor for you. Being at the end of my 23+ year career and stationed here now, I have reflected on my time as a cadet and really feel it was a good thing for me. It would be very interesting to speak to female cadets (25% of the doolies!) now to see what has changed and what hasn’t since you were there.

  2. Hmm, Mike you inspire new posts. I did talk to a few female cadets a few weeks ago, when I visited USAFA for my 30th reunion. In some ways, progress is great. In other ways, I was very disappointed. A lot of my disappointment centers around a cultural problem, of people ignoring specific, disrespectful words. But oh, yes, in the end I am glad I went. I might not have enjoyed my time, but I enjoy who I became.

  3. Anne,
    I can probably assume that I’m the “John Schultz” under rule #4. I assume this because of the brief comment you made to me at the “30th”. For anyone who might read this, I’m John Scholtz and grew up around the corner from Anne in beloved Albuquerque, NM. At the reunion sitting in our beloved F-1(huge auditorium and place of many naps) with so many old friends I noticed you standing behind me. I was trying to say “hi, how have you been; this is my wife Denise; and I see your folks a few times when I go to visit my Mom on Trail Ridge and they always look so happy and tell me how you’re doing and they talk to my mom…” That was what I was trying to say but you cut me off and said something I couldn’t quite understand because it was so noisy in there. Always was, always will be. Plus, with my current 52yr old ear drums which have over 13,000hrs of Jet time;300hrs of hanging on taxiways at Kirtland AFB as a 10, 11, 12yr old; 1-million hrs of listening to rock and roll…I’m never really sure of what I’m hearing. I thought I heard something about my name being discussed and something about “my book” and then the formal briefing on stage started. I really enjoyed and found General Gould’s (he taught me how to land a T-38 at Willy) and the other’s briefing about current goings on at USAFA very interesting. Then after the briefing when they turned to the portion of the time to field questions there was a short pause to see who would be first and I was a little startled as you shot up (Chappy James would’ve been proud)(General James’s speech when we were basics is still to this day the most inspiring speech I’ve ever heard). You asked a very piercing and important question about why 30yrs latera female cadet on the staff tower is still asked down after about 20sec and a male cadet was given a minute and half. At first I thought “Wow, Gutsy move Mav!”. Then , Jerry Sirote(zoo sq neighbor and later fellow Tweet IP at Mather) sitting next to my wife, has better ears and is pretty sharp … opened up the 30th Reunion Program and pointed out the announcement about your bagels and book on Friday morning and passed it to me. Then my thought went from “ Wow, to—oh Shit!!” (apologies for cussing in my thoughts). Haven’t read the book or talked to anyone at the briefing but my memory can only come up with the article in the school newspaper after the editor called me at home. (I’m not going to say anything about that yet because maybe that wasn’t it and it was something else, God knows I did many things during those years). As a side note, I can remember posting on “the B-Board” the letter from our Beloved High School Homecoming Queen who wrote this incredibly belittling, bury my soul below the surface letter to me about 3mo into our Dooley year about how I was such a lousy person and …you all can imagine the rest. So, there were others at Sandia HS who didn’t sign my OER—promote below the zone. I was able to apologize to her at Christmas that year and we kissed and made up, I mean became friends again. So, I can’t specifically apologize for anything yet except for I can only imagine what I was in your court of judgment for because of who I was. But let me tell you a few other stories since that time. I saw Debbie Wilcox (Fed EX and married to Dave ZZZ-man) at the CVG airport about 20yrs ago. We chatted and caught up about kids and places for about 15min and then I told her something. This time frame was just after the Citadel and the Shannon Faulkner fiasco. I told Debbie I wanted her to know how much respect I had for the ladies of ’80 at USAFA and how great they had shown themselves to the institution and to the rest of the Air Force. I told her that the one thing that I learned to care more about then anything else was whether or not a fellow officer/squadron mate was someone who cared about others and did their job and anything to help other squadron mates. I said, every squadron would have a few and sometimes many persons who were weak and couldn’t really do the job or only cared about advancement or would only help you if it helped them. Everyone else knew who those persons were and sometimes after a few sudsy malts at a Christmas Party they themselves found out who they were (not me, someone with more guts and it was entertaining). I told Debbie that the Class of ‘80 Ladies I saw in Pilot training and throughout the Air Force were on the “A” portion of the bell curve. I said a few more things and then she got a little teary eyed and said that really meant a lot and gave me a hug (no kiss). Back to the Shannon Faulkner deal. Back in 1994 my mom came to visit in Atlanta and I drove her out to Sumter (Shaw AFB), SC to see our old family friends who took care of us while my dad was off away in Viet Nam being shot down in an unarmed F-4 (he was rescued in ’68 and we moved to ABQ). We visited with the James. George James went to the Citadel, George Jr. went to the Citadel and Buck (our age) went to….the Citadel. Mr. James had just stepped down from being the head of the Board of Regents. I noticed a bumper sticker on the Cadillac that said “Save the Males”(can we laugh). Before our nice Friday night dinner, Mr. James, Buck and I were having bourbon in his office. Buck asked me a question, “John, you went to an academy and there were women there…what do you think about Shannon coming to the Citadel?” I looked at Buck and then his dad and said, “Great question Buck, I’ll give you a choice, I’ll give you the answer you want to hear or I’ll give you what I really think.” Mr. James took another sip and looked at me and said, “Just like your Dad you’re going to give us the latter.” I told them for the next 30min that they were making a huge mistake. I told them what matters when you’re in life and death situations as well as programs that are of such national importance that you don’t care what someone’s gender or race is. You care that they’re competent and that they have your back. I told them that they needed to accept that America’s Army, Air Force and Navy had women. There are good women and bad women, good men and bad men. The job of the institution (like the comm answered your question) is to make them as good an officer as they can. I didn’t sway Mr. James much but Buck, maybe. It was our classmate, I believe, that came in as commandant in the late ‘90’s (an ’80 lady) and help restore luster to a fine institution that is The Citadel (I read an article about her in a Sunday Paper, maybe NYT). After all of this I have no idea where exactly I stand with AFM. If I had a negative-positive impact on your USAFA life…I’m sorry and you’re welcome. We really did not even know one another in high school (digging different roads I guess) and never really crossed at the zoo (I was in C,D sections and ac-pro) and then in the Air Force I was Willy-Buffs (Dyess)-Tweets (Mather). I acknowledge sober and solemnly that I must have been wrong in high school. I do firmly stand bye my actions since then. Does 35yrs count? Of course it does. Can we make mistakes? Yes, I’ll we’ll continue to make them. I tell you one of my overwhelming top priorities in life. That is to believe in what you believe in by about 90%. Be willing to listen and use the remaining 10% to make yourself better. I would like to hear from folks like Terry Meyer and Mary Daly who did cross my path at the zoo. Mary Smellie and Debbie Anderson during active duty. Eileen Collins, my golfing buddy’s wife. In the end, serving your country and the people you serve with, with class and dignity is the most important thing. I believe with all my heart and soul that I did that. I learned that from Col. John C. Scholtz Jr. as well as from that officer lavatory we know as “The Zoo.” Someday maybe you can coax my 5-rules of observed human behaviors…The number 1 being—ITS NOT ALL ABOUT ME. Good night, I need a drink.
    John Scholtz
    (I’ll post this now because I’ll lose gumption later)
    (With me writing, you get what you get, my stuff sounds mo better around a fire pit with cigars and libations)
    (I promise to come back later)
    (Fire away, be nice)

  4. For what it’s worth, I’ll tell you about my experience with women in my doolie squadron that I think is a good representation of my experience with USAFA cadets in general. We had three women in our doolie squadron – Kelly, Kerri, and Chris. Kelly was a standout in everything she did. She was on the basketball team, a straight A student, and a great contributor. Last time I saw her years ago in a base ops in Europe somewhere she was getting ready to go to test pilot school. Kerri was the middle-of-the-packer, much like me. We struggled to get through the doolie year like most others, but managed to do OK. I was so happy to see her teaching in my daughter’s school at my last assignment at Andrews AFB that I gave her a big hug after not seeing her for 20+ years. That bond we all have after going through the zoo, and especially the doolie year, never goes away. Chris was the screw-up of the bunch and frankly, I don’t know that she cared. We dreaded seeing her name alongside ours on the table assignments for the week because we knew we weren’t going to eat much with her at our table. She ended up getting kicked out of the Academy – for what, I don’t recall. My point is the women ran the gamut, just like the guys. But for the most part, the women I encountered in my career were great officers and aviators, from Beth Martin, one of the best T-38 IPs I flew with in UPT, to Beth Burda, my primary instructor in the Twin Otter in my last assignment back at USAFA. I was proud to serve with them.

  5. Dear John and Mike,
    Your comments make me very proud–of myself, of the institution, and of you for defending us! Like Mike, I consider myself to have been a “middle-of-the-packer”, both at the zoo and after. But I do have this diary/book thingy in me. Sorry we didn’t talk at the reunion, John. Your ears are sharp! I pointed you out to my hubby, then tried to get into position to ask my question. From my point-of-view, Gen. Gould ignored me for as long as he could, at least four other questions, before I shot up and shouted.

    Yes, John, you were framed by that quote in our high school newspaper (oh, the media is so fickle). For what it is worth, #4 comes verbatim, misspelling and all, from my hand-written diary 35 years ago. I was just as young as you were. Oh, thank goodness some of us gain empathy with age; it works both ways. I am always jealous that you got to be a “shit-hot” pilot in fighters, while I shuttled beer and bullets. Lots of women have made up for that, since then.

    Finally, one reason I am writing this memoir is to emphasize exactly what both you and Mike say–that it comes down to the person, not the gender. Because the culture is so different and the expectations so much higher, I think that the military academies are difficult for all cadets, whether they entered in 1958 or 2008, regardless of their race, religion, or gender.

    Thank you both for writing! I hope that the current generation will learn to open their minds, judge on actions, and stand up for what is right even when it is the minority opinion.

  6. Anne,
    We must have a drink someday…
    “I am always jealous that you got to be a “shit-hot” pilot in fighters…” I must set that record straight also. It reminds me of a story…but not here, not now. I did use the story as my opener (SOS 101) as an attention grabber at a Kiwanis Club luncheon. They wanted someone to talk to them about flying B-52’s (This is while I was at Mather AFB, Sacramento, CA). The short version is it was my life’s dream to fly F-15’s at a German Base drinking German beer. Instead, I got a bomber to a dry county in Texas. Actually, the county voted “wet” the year before I got there because they were so mad at the liquor store on the other side of the county line making a killing. But, I too, wanted to fly fighters.
    Cheers,
    John
    —looking back 25yrs, Buffs were loads of fun…or maybe not.

  7. Hi Anne,
    Thanks for making the point about the cadet suicide rate. Horrible for them and for their families. We all go there with such high dreams and expectations, and I would think that we would have a few close friends to confide in. But I was a bit of a loner there, and am not sure I would have let anyone know if I was seriously depressed.
    Another issue – I just hope that the military will not use any political quota system when they let women in combat positions. As you and others have said, jobs should be based on abilities. I hated it while I was in pilot training and some good guys were kicked out but some girls that were having trouble were only moved back to another class. That was bad for everyone.
    Also, I hope it doesn’t get to the place where women, especially mothers, are assigned to combat roles that they don’t want. I know I am probably in the minority here, but I think being a mom is the most important job to a strong society.
    Glad to see you so active – you were always such an amazing runner. I have done one Ironman and still run, bicycle, play racquetball, and do crossfit with my family. But God is first in my life. Have a great day.
    June (Van Horn) Lindner


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