So, who was Norma Brown and why is her name on the wing headquarters building?

Norma Brown

Norma Brown

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- As a young E-4 corporal in the United States Army, it was Joe Zapala's job to escort a retired Air Force major general on a tour of the base. Today, Joe Zapala is a fire instructor and the facility manager for the Louis F. Garland Department of Defense Fire Academy here. Two decades ago, he was stationed at the fire school when it was still at Chanute Air Force Base, Ill. The school had just opened a new training facility, and Maj. General Norma Brown was there to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony.

For the tour, Joe selected the school's newest crash fire truck, a P-19. As he pulled away from the school to begin the tour, General Brown suddenly ordered him to pull over.

"The next thing I knew," Joe recalled, still laughing at the episode, "we were tearing down the main boulevard on Chanute at 50 miles per hour with Norma Brown behind the wheel."

That was vintage Norma Brown. When she retired from active duty as a major general in 1982 she was the highest ranking woman in the Air Force. But her rank at retirement was as much an achievement for her gender as it was for her personally.

In 1951, when Norma Brown left her position as a high school physical education teacher in response to the vigorous recruitment of women during the Korean War, there were no women general officers and would be none for another two decades. No women were serving as Air Force pilots. None were navigators. None were aircraft maintenance officers, or civil engineers, or military academy graduates...or wing commanders, until Norma Brown became one at Goodfellow.

She began her Air Force career as a personnel specialist, taking assignments in Newfoundland, England and at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. before undertaking a 13-year series of tours with the United States Air Force Security Service, the predecessor of today's Air Intelligence Agency.

Following an initial assignment at Security Service headquarters at Kelly AFB, Texas, she was appointed chief of the Personnel Division at the 6987th Security Group at Shu Lin Kau Air Station, Taiwan.

Returning to Kelly in the late 1960s, she became chief of the newly created Consolidated Base Personnel Office for all units in the European Security Region. The regional arrangement was a first for the command, and her role in bringing it about earned her command of the 6970th Air Base Group at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, in 1972.

Norma Brown's career with the Security Service culminated in her appointment two years later to command the wing at Goodfellow. This was a time of downsizing across the Air Force. Nevertheless, under her leadership, the base took beneficial occupancy of a new intelligence training facility, it began construction of a new medical facility, and it broke ground for three new dormitories, dedicating each to the memory of Goodfellow alumni who lost their lives aboard EC-47 missions in southeast Asia.

Following her pioneering assignment as wing commander at Goodfellow, Norma Brown served with the Air Force Logistics Command before accepting command of the Chanute Technical Training Center in 1979. The first woman inducted into the Order of the Sword, Norma Brown retired from the Air Force three years later, settling ultimately in Leon Springs, Texas. She passed away in 2003 at the age of 77 while vacationing in Wyoming. (Article done in consideration of National Women's History Month.)