30 years of '80s ladies

  • Published
  • By Cadet 2nd Class J. Seth Bopp
  • Cadet Squadron 12
Inprocessing Day: any Air Force Academy graduate will tell you this day is one of organized chaos and sensory overload. Position of attention, seven basic responses, right face, left face, run, don't walk, don't run, stop talking, talk, stop gazing, what are you looking at?!

For America's best and brightest, this is the first of many days that the rigor of the Academy comes into focus. In June 1976, with swarms of media gathered at the base of the "Bring Me Men" ramp, the day would run like any other inprocessing day, with cadre yelling at basics, informing them that they are wrong and to correct themselves. But on this warm June day, there was one slight difference: for the first time in the Academy's history, women aligned themselves with men on the footprints and embarked on the journey into the Long Blue Line.

The Class of 1980 returned to the Academy Oct. 4-7 to share their experiences of the Long Blue Line during the Fall 2010 Falcon Heritage Forum, coined "Class of 1980: Architects of Transformation." The class also held its 30 year reunion Oct. 7-9, attending the Air Force-CSU football game Saturday.

Arriving at the Academy in a state of confusion, retired Col. Gail Colvin had no clue what was going on.

"I was a transfer student," Colvin said while laughing, "I didn't understand at the time why I was being yelled at, and I wanted to make sure these people knew I was not a freshman but a transfer student." To her surprise, there were no transfer students. She would fall in among the other students being yelled at.

Upperclassmen took their turns quizzing basic trainees to see if they knew their seven basic responses, correcting their positions of attention and introducing them into the Air Force. The basics double timed from the footprints to clothing issue and then into their rooms in the northeastern corner of Vandenberg Tower.

The day would prove to run the same as any other inprocessing day. Retired Lt. Col. Betsy Pimentel recalled the logistics of Inprocessing Day at a Falcon Heritage Falcon session with Cadet Squadron 12.

"I remember standing in the separate woman's issue line for socks," Colonel Pimentel said. "They handed me a tiny pair of socks and I asked if they had any larger sizes. I was informed that these were the women's socks, no larger sizes were available. The next day when PT time rolled around I was yelled at for not wearing socks. I informed my cadre that I was indeed wearing socks but they were too small. This was something I will never forget, because it was somewhat humorous."

For the rest of Basic Cadet Training and up until their return from Winter Break of their four degree year, the Ladies of '80 lived in the northeastern corner of Vandy Tower. Returning from Winter Break, the ladies were finally integrated into their squadrons but would remain in separate living quarters.

Maj. Gen. Susan Desjardins was excited and nervous for the integration to occur.

"I think the administration saw the barrier of separate living, and made the decision to integrate us to help with squadron unity," she said. She also recalled that the ladies would wake up do the details in their living quarters and then go to their respective squadrons to do their daily duties like minutes and trash detail. In many ways this arrangement made life for the ladies harder, so most were excited to finally move into their squadrons.

In May 1980, the first class with women graduated and started their journeys into the operational Air Force. They had finished what they thought was the toughest obstacle they would face -- the Academy -- relying on one another to overcome tough times. However, in their first decade of service, the Class of 1980 would face amazing challenges: the Cold War, the Iran-Iraq War, the U.S. hostage situation in Iran, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Soviet war in Afghanistan and the invasion of Grenada are just some of the many events that the class would face as junior officers.

Moving into the 1990s the class would continue to facing international and national issues head on. Maj. Gen. Susan Helms would gain international recognition for her work in space exploration and for holding the record for the longest space walk ever conducted.

Assuming squadron commander positions in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the class would come to face their biggest challenge yet: Sept. 11, 2001. Retired Col. Debra Gray vividly recalls the day as she was attending National War College across the river from the Pentagon.

"Sitting there, we felt the buildings shake, so I knew the reports of missile hitting the building couldn't be true," she said. "It was a scary time, the first attack on U.S. soil in several years, and we were deciding what to do." Al-Qaida terrorists had brought tragedy to American soil, and as squadron commanders, the Class of 1980 would lead Airmen on the front lines of the ensuing war on terrorism.

Today, the graduates of the Class of 1980 are assuming senior leadership roles within the Air Force. Like they have their entire careers, they are facing some of the toughest issues to date: removing pilots from flight deck in expanding unmanned aerial systems, the potential repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy and force shaping to meet the request of Congress and Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz.

The Class of 1980 has continuously marked their careers with high energy, hard work and dedication. They will continue to do so as the Air Force's senior leaders, and who knows -- maybe we will see the first female Air Force four-star general arise from this class. Colonels Colvin and Gray, smiling, said they think it is possible.

To the Class of 1980, thank you for your service and dedication to our Long Blue Line.