Women's History Month: Celebrating a culture of equality

  • Published
  • By Brig. Gen. Mark Dillon
  • 86th Airlift Wing commander
As we enter March and begin to recognize Women's History Month throughout the Kaiserslautern Military Community, I'd like to take a moment to talk about an Air Force pioneer who passed away a few weeks ago.

Retired Maj. Gen. Jeanne M. Holm, credited as the single driving force in achieving equality for today's military women, died Feb. 15 at 88 years old.

She started her military career by enlisting in the Army in 1942. She entered the Women's Army Air Corps the following year, receiving a commission as the WAAC's equivalent of a second lieutenant. She commanded a basic training company, then a training regiment, and after the war took command of the 106th Women's Army Corps Hospital in West Virginia before leaving active duty in 1946.

Two years later, during the Berlin Crisis, she was recalled by the Army to be a company commander and then transferred to the two-year-old Air Force in 1949, when a new law fully integrated women into the regular armed forces.

She then served for 26 more years in a variety of personnel positions overseas and in Washington, then becoming the longest-serving director of Women in the Air Force, or WAF, from 1965 until 1971. In that position, she truly found her stride. Maneuvering among senior leaders, she increased opportunities for women across the Air Force and in all branches of service. She got rid of outdated uniforms, opened "choice" overseas assignments to women that had long been for "men only," and greatly expanded the career fields open to women.

In 1971 she became the first woman to achieve the rank of brigadier general, and two years later she became the first female two-star general in U.S. military history.

She retired in 1975, but many of the ideas she championed came to pass long after her time in uniform. Women were later admitted to service academies, allowed full participation in campus ROTC programs, allowed to serve as pilots and given greater roles in combat. Many believe that without her, there would be no women in the Air Force at all.

Today, women in the Air Force still face significant challenges. But thanks to the sense of determination and the culture of equality women like General Holm infused into our branch of service, we know we are headed in the right direction. She's shown us that by standing together, we can achieve greater success by embracing our uniqueness, versus dividing it.

During this month, please take the time to participate in some of the many events we have planned to recognize our heritage, and the proud part women have played in the past, present and future success of our Armed Services.