B-52s fly historic un-MANned mission
By Master Sgt. Dachelle Melville, 307th Bomb Wing
/ Published March 23, 2016
BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- In honor of Women’s History Month, Barksdale Air Force Base made history by launching two B-52 Stratofortress bombers with all-female crews March 22. The training mission included in-air refueling and target practice.
"My first flight in a B-52, on May 12, 2003, was an eye-opening experience. It was like driving a bus,” said Maj. Heather Decker, 93rd Bomb Squadron. "It's more challenging than most airplanes. It's very mechanical, and you have to move it around physically.” Decker was a part of this historic mission and was also the first female Reserve pilot to qualify in the B-52 more than 10 years ago.
In addition to the all-female aircrews, the crew chiefs that prepared and launched the planes were all women.
“This is where I belong. This is what I know I am supposed to be doing with my life,” said Senior Airman Rachel Upshaw, one of the crew chiefs assigned to the 707th Maintenance Squadron that recovered one of the jets that afternoon. “Being a crew chief is one of the hardest but most rewarding jobs… with its awesome history.”
Staff Sgt. Belinda Thoreson is also a crew chief assigned to the 707th Maintenance Squadron and helped launch one of the B-52s. When asked about what advice she would give to the future generation of women, she said, “It’s okay to do things as a woman. Don’t let anyone pressure you into being anything different (than yourself), follow your dreams and sometimes the most unexpected things can bring you the most joy and reward.”
Women have been and are in the fight. Women served as security forces, drivers and gunners during embattled convoy missions, medics on foot patrols and as members of cultural support and female engagement teams. On Jan. 4, the Air Force began recruiting women into previously-closed career fields and positions.
“Many people think the military is not a place for social experimentation. In many instances I disagree,” said Col. Bruce Cox, 307th Bomb Wing commander. “The military led the way for desegregation, equal pay and now leads the way for women affording equal opportunities in the work place.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women make up 50.8 percent of the nation’s population. Currently women make up 19 pecent of the Air Force, the highest of any service.
“I am extremely proud for all the women who elect to wear the uniform of the American Airman. It is an honor to serve with each and every one of them,” Cox added.
The two B-52’s flew with a wide range of ranks. The crews included active duty and Reservists, from veteran flyers to lieutenants still in training at the B-52 flight training unit on Barksdale.