Women in BYU Air Force ROTC make strides in female military aviation

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This photo shows male and female cadets in BYU’s Air Force ROTC competing at the 2016 Southern California Invitational Drill Meet in El Segundo, California. Out of the 125 cadets in the AFROTC at BYU, only 5 are female. (Photo Courtesy Air Force ROTC Detachment 855 Facebook Page)

Women cadets and leaders in the Air Force ROTC at BYU (AFROTC) made history in March (Women’s History Month) in the world of female military aviation.

Capt. Julianne Thompson is BYU AFROTC operations manager, professor of Aerospace Studies and serves as an advisor to the cadets to help them meet their required AFROTC objectives and leadership positions. She discussed BYU’s own Cadet Mayfield, who is currently the Cadet Wing Commander for BYU’s Air Force ROTC.

“As the Cadet Wing Commander, Cadet Mayfield is in charge of all the other cadets,” Thompson said. “It’s a big responsibility because we have 125 cadets. Cadet Mayfield is the first female Cadet Wing Commander BYU has had since 2007, so that’s a big deal.”

Thompson said Cadet Mayfield is in charge of making sure all the BYU AFROTC functions run smoothly. Mayfield is the connection between the cadet wing and the AFROTC administration.

Thompson told of Mayfield’s journey to this leadership position. She said Mayfield started in the AFROTC at BYU as a freshman and spent two years learning basic leadership skills. Mayfield was supposed to go to field training after her first two years.

“In field training, they put you in high pressure situations and see how you react in those situations in a leadership position,” Thompson said. “It’s training for cadets who want to become officers.”

An injury prevented Mayfield from attending field training for over a year, but she still participated in smaller leadership positions in the cadet wing while she was recovering.

“Mayfield attended field training last summer, and she finished number one in her flight,” Thompson said. “That’s impressive because there are 25 to 30 cadets in each flight from all over the country.”

Mayfield returned to BYU in the fall and interviewed for the leadership position of Cadet Wing Commander.

“When we interviewed, we asked all the cadets who were also interviewing for other leadership positions who they would choose to be their leader,” Thompson said. “A majority of the cadets said they would want Cadet Mayfield. That says a lot about someone when her peers, who are leaders in their own right, would choose her to be their leader.”

Thompson also spoke about her own journey in the Air Force.

“I am actually a product of AFROTC at BYU,” Thompson said. “I served a mission, and then I commissioned into the Air Force in 2010.”

She served her first Air Force assignment in North Dakota, and when she was given the opportunity to come back to BYU to work with the AFROTC, she said she jumped on it.

“The Air Force gives me an opportunity to serve, and I get to do it every day,” Thompson said.

Thompson said only five of the 125 BYU AFROTC cadets are female, and she offered advice to any woman considering a career in the Air Force.

“I would advise any woman to give it a try,” Thompson said. “The program gives you leadership skills and teaches you how to take care of yourself and of others. Plus, you graduate with a job.”

1st Lt. Erin Pineda will soon be a Recruiting Commander for BYU’s AFROTC. Pineda will also be an instructor for the Aerospace 100 course. Pineda discussed her journey as a woman who attended the Air Force Academy, and now works with BYU’s AFROTC.

When asked whether she had experienced any challenges in her career because of her gender, Pineda said she hadn’t, and that wasn’t an accident.

“We really have to thank the women who have paved the way,” Pineda said. “At the Air Force Academy we always talked about the ’80s Ladies,’ the first class of women to graduate from the Academy in 1980.”

Pineda discussed the strides that women are making in military aviation.

“The Air Force is still male dominated, because only about 20 percent of the Air Force is women,” Pineda said. “But it’s amazing to see how in a short period of time, only 50 or 60 years, opportunities for women have really grown, especially in combat and leadership positions.”

The Air Force ROTC was established at BYU in 1951. Soon after, girls organized a sponsor corps titled Angel Flight. These girls were a part of the Angel Flight rifle team.
The Air Force ROTC was established at BYU in 1951. Soon after, women organized a sponsor corps titled Angel Flight. These women were a part of the Angel Flight rifle team. (HBLL University Archives)

The Institute for Women of Aviation Worldwide (iWOAW) hosts the Women of Aviation Worldwide week every year during the week of Mar. 8. This is the anniversary date of the world’s first female pilot license, earned by Raymonde de Laroche. The event coincides with International Women’s Day, recognized on Mar. 8.

The Women of Aviation Worldwide Week sponsors events that encourage women and girls to learn about female aviation history, and to learn about opportunities to become female aviators.

“Women were participating in the Air Force before it was even officially the Air Force,” Pineda said. “In WWII women were flying cargo and training pilots. My friend’s grandmother was a nurse in the Air Force.”

This year’s theme is “60 years of female bush pilots.” The theme is based on the story of Ada Rogato, the third woman in Brazil to earn a pilot’s license. Rogato made history in 1956 when she became the first person, male or female, to fly through the Amazon jungle.

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