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Gen. Born shares perspective on women at USAFA
Brig. Gen. Dana Born speaks to a group of cadets, including Cadet 3rd Class Erika Martin from Cadet Squadron 08, during a visit to the Academy's Unmanned Aerial System-Remotely Piloted Aircraft training program at Fort Carson July 23, 2009. General Born is a 1983 graduate of the Academy and the first female dean of the faculty. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)
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Dean reflects on history of Cadet Wing women

Posted 3/4/2010   Updated 3/4/2010 Email story   Print story


by 2nd Lt. Meredith Kirchoff
U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs

3/4/2010 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The dean of the faculty never fathomed in 1979 that she would one day return to the Academy in that role. Like most fourth class cadets, her thoughts were consumed by making it from breakfast to lunch, lunch to dinner, dinner to call to quarters, and eventually to sleep.

"I absolutely can honestly say I never thought about being the dean of the faculty... It was really just trying to do the best with each day and hope that I had the opportunity to become an officer in the United States Air Force," Brig. Gen. Dana Born said.

She received that opportunity and graduated from the Academy in 1983 as a member of only the fourth class to graduate women. While working as an exchange officer in Australia, and approaching the end of her five-year service commitment, the then-Capt. Born was struck by the power of what she became involved in through the Air Force.

"It was evident to me that I wanted to stay with the United States Air Force because of the mission we have and the people we get to complete that mission with," the general said.

Not only did she feel inspired by the mission she was advancing, she felt empowered by those who had gone before her and helped to pave the way for women in the military. As a second lieutenant, General Born had the opportunity to meet Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught, the first female comptroller to attain general officer rank.

"I'd never seen a female general officer before," she recalled, noting that meeting and staying in contact with General Vaught profoundly affected her career aspirations.

Today's cadets and young officers have a far greater selection of general officers to look to as role models. General Born herself is among the pioneers of female Academy graduates as one of only 14 to rise to the general officer ranks.

General Born returned to the Academy from June 1989 to August 1991 as an assistant professor for the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership, and again in October 2004 as the first female dean of the faculty. Her history at the Academy gives her a unique perspective of the progress women cadets have made over three decades.

"When I was a cadet in 1979 there were women in each of the four classes," she said. "At that time, we had maybe one or two women per squadron and there was kind of a tokenism feel where we were, in a sense, competitors. And so, there really wasn't a unifying 'we're women in the military,"

While cadets will always be competitive, the dean said she saw more camaraderie among women in the Cadet Wing as an instructor.

"I saw a different culture," she said. "I saw an evolution of women who were spending time together and had assimilated, as women, into a very male culture."

Although many cadets agree there is solidarity among the women at the Academy, some still feel the strain of competition.

"Oftentimes I think we are our own worst enemy," said Cadet 1st Class Whitney Bouchard from Cadet Squadron 13. "To find the line between being 'one of the guys,' as this male-dominated institution seems to require at times, and still being a lady is a hard one to find and an even harder one to stand on."

General Born said she can see how far the Cadet Wing has come and is fascinated when she sees female cadets celebrating as women.

"Whether they want to be ultra-feminine or they want to be more androgynous. I think that there is less, 'Let's be better than the guys,'" she said.

What was once a competition between individuals has transformed into a competition within the individual. General Born said she believes women today are challenging themselves to be the best cadet, or best officer, they can be, rather than trying to be better than those around them.

It is that confidence and self determination the dean hopes a new era of women will carry with them when they leave the Academy and begin their careers as Air Force officers. The mindset General Born had hoped future cadets would adopt when she graduated in 1983 is becoming a reality in today's female cadets.

"I don't think being a woman in the military is anything different than being a man in the military," said Cadet 1st Class Megan Moulton from CS 15. "Women need to make sure they stand out for their own achievements." Cadet Moulton would like to see more women in space as an achievement accomplished as women progress in the military.

Cadet 1st Class Tamiko Toyama of CS 23 articulated a similar perspective.

"I hope that women simply continue on the path that they have already begun: to serve alongside our male counterparts in completing the mission, without any mental reservations along the way about differences in gender," she said.

Ultimately, General Born said she sees the posture that women have taken to advance in the military as one that can be applied across lines of gender, racial, ethnic, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds.

"It's about how you can bring the talents that you have and the strengths that you have to something that's bigger than yourself," she said. "That's really what unifies all of us; that we are contributing to something much bigger than ourselves. And, there aren't limitations based upon anything other than how well you are contributing to that mission."

General Born's message for young officers and Airmen is to invest in developing personally as well as passionately developing those around you.

When every cadet and graduate adopts that attitude, she said, "It advances our Air Force Academy, it advances our Air Force, it advances our nation, and if you take that further, it advances our world."

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