As part of Women’s History Month, the U.S. Air Force has been recognizing women who have broken barriers, women who have had illustrious Air Force careers.
In this vein, articles have appeared on Jeanne M. Holm, the first woman in the armed forces to be promoted to the rank of major general in 1973 and ‘credited as a single driving force in achieving parity for military women and making them a viable part of the mainstream military.’
And on Major General Marcelite J. Harris who became the first African-American female general officer in the U.S. Air Force. At the time Harris retired in 1997, she was the highest-ranking female officer in the Air Force and the highest-ranking African-American female within the Defense Department.
These and so many other women in the military have made significant contributions not only to their Service and country but also to the advancement and success of women in the military, a place where more and more women are making serving their country a career. More than 58,000 women are serving today in the U.S. Air Force.
One of them is Staff Sgt. Alexandra M. Longfellow who has written a very nice story on the occasion of Women’s History Month.
Longfellow is a Public Affairs photojournalist at the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo.
Perhaps I liked her story because she started her Air Force career at a very early age, as I did.
Three weeks after she graduated from High School, Longfellow was on a plane headed to San Antonio, Texas, for basic military training.
Well, I was not as fortunate, I took the train…
Anyway, it is a great story told by a single mother of two children, full-time student and a military career woman who gives “100 percent in every aspect in [her] life…a real life Rosie.”
As we recognize Women’s History Month this March, I am struck by the thought that heroes and role models do not have to be one single person but, in fact, can be several people. For me, this truth is especially relevant.
During World War II, many women opted to take on male dominated trades to support their families while their husbands fought in the war. This was a stark change from an era in which women typically held a position as housewives.
It was during this time that “Rosie the Riveter” was born. In 1942, Veronica Foster, who had in the previous year become the face of Canadian women in the war effort as “Ronnie the Bren Gun Girl,” donned the red bandana and rolled up her sleeves for Canada’s neighbors to the south.
“Rosie the Riveter,” as she was known in the U.S., was soon the iconic image of women entering the workplace and taking up industrial jobs in support of their nation.
Originally, it was meant to represent the millions of women employed at shipyards and manufacturing plants who were developing the nation’s military arsenal and assembling war supplies. The poster itself evolved into a multi-dimensional inspiration.
Shortly thereafter, Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb wrote a song in tribute to Rosie, which became very popular.
“All the day long,
Where rain or shine
She’s part of the assembly line.
She’s making history,
Working for victory
Rosie the Riveter”
Even today, Rosie’s signature expression and inherent strength are an inspiration to millions of Americans, myself included.
I first learned about Rosie when I was seven. My mom handed me a magazine to look through and I saw the bright yellow and blue background overlaid with a girl showing her muscles. I was so intrigued by the girl in the red polka-dot bandana.
From that moment on, I constantly asked my parents who she was, what she did and why she did it. I wanted to be exactly like her when I grew up.
I pushed myself hard in high school. During those years, we learned my mother had brain cancer, while my father’s health would go from bad to worse. I needed to learn to support myself in any and every way possible. I needed to be independent. I applied myself at school, extra-curricular activities and several different jobs.
My parents signed the papers for me to enter the Air Force at the age of 17. Three weeks after I graduated high school, I was on a plane headed to San Antonio, Texas, for basic military training.
Although I do not get my hands dirty on an assembly line every day the way Rosie did, I still pull my hair back tight and use my hands to get the job done for our military and to provide for my family.
Every time I felt I could not do something, whether in BMT or at my duty station, I remembered the millions of women who rose above and conquered what others thought they could not.
My mother passed away while I was at my first duty station and shortly after that my father passed. During those times, I kept a positive attitude. I needed to; it was who I was and who I needed to be.
I had a can-do attitude and knew I was not alone. Thinking of Rosie helped me get back up on my feet and continue to do good things with my life and become a better Airman, a better me.
I am a single mother of two children, full-time student and a military career woman. I give 100 percent in every aspect in my life. I am a real life Rosie.
I have a tattoo of Rosie on my right arm as a symbol of how I became who I am today. Rosie taught me that all people, not just women, can do anything they want as long as they set their mind to it — and history shows that.
World War II represented a major turning point for women as they eagerly supported the war effort. The long-term significance of the change brought about by the war provided the foundation for the contemporary women’s movement.
Although women have made tremendous progress during the past 50 years, Rosie the Riveter still stands as a beacon of inspiration and determination.
The “We Can Do It” poster means so much to women in America — a symbol that illustrates both a proud legacy and the challenges they will continue to face and conquer in the future.
Lead photo: Staff Sgt. Alexandra M. Longfellow displays a tattoo of “Rosie the Riveter” to showcase how she became who she is today. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Alexandra M. Longfellow)
The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.