Retired Crew Chief reflects on the past

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas-- -- Women have a long history with the US military. According to www.army.mil, females have served in the military since the American Revolutionary War. In the past, they often served as nurses, cooks and seamstresses. In the last 30 years however, that role has changed. Females now serve in nearly every aspect of the military and are given equal treatment.

Retired Senior Master Sgt. Mary Nunley, currently a secretary at the Veterinary Center here, can attest to the drastic changes she saw during her 26-year military career. Mrs. Nunley enlisted in 1975, and said women are more accepted now than when she joined the military.

"The differences between then and now are awe-inspiring," she said. "Attitudes have changed drastically in the last 30 years. When I joined, women were definitely accepted in the military, but only in certain roles, the level of acceptance now, as compared to when I first joined, is breathtaking."

She said she enlisted in the Women's Army Corps because she was turned down by an Air Force recruiter since she did not meet the women's height requirements.
"The recruiter told me I was too tall, so I joined the WAC," she said.

Once the genders were completely combined into one service, the height requirement for women, 5'2" to 5'10", was eliminated, she said.

Mrs. Nunley was one of the last females to join the WAC before it became part of the regular military. She said, at the time, females had their own commanders and first sergeants and a completely different uniform from their male counterparts.

"Even our PT uniforms were different," she said. "We wore a lightweight blouse, green pedal pusher shorts and a wrap-around skirt. When we arrived on the PT field, we took off the skirt and put it on the ground to exercise on it and afterward, we had to put the skirt back on before leaving for the next training session. Female military members today would laugh at the thought of wearing a skirt to formal PT."

Mrs. Nunley said she served four years as part of the WAC, left the military for six months and then contacted an Air Force recruiter again in 1980.

She said prior Army personnel were usually only accepted into the AF if they chose critically manned career fields and the only one she was offered was a B-52 Crew Chief.
After graduating from the Able Chief 1 course at Sheppard AFB, Texas, she became the first female B-52 Crew Chief at Wurtsmith AFB, Michigan. She said one of their primary tasks was performing Strategic Air Command Alert duty as part of the strategic nuclear deterrent force during the Cold War.

"The Alert facility was built long before the presence of women was conceived, so when one female was on alert duty, at least one other female was required to be there so there would be enough places for everyone to shower and sleep," she said. "They even had to make an exception to policy to allow female officers and enlisted personnel to share a room."

After serving four years on the air crew, Mrs. Nunley returned to the dental career field, which was her job in the WAC and Army, and retired in 2001.

"Things have changed so much from my time as a crew chief," she said. "When I was there, tension was high. No one thought females could really cut it on an air crew and now there are entirely female crews."

The first all-female air crew to fly in a deployed location consisted of six Airmen who flew a C-130 Hercules in 2005, she said.

"The future is bright for women in the military," she said. "With the exception of only a few career fields, a qualified and properly motivated female is offered the same opportunities as a male. I didn't really expect this to happen, but I am glad it has."