News | Sept. 7, 2023

Celebrating 50 Years of Women in Naval Aviation

By David Byrd

Long before the Wright brothers powered their way into the skies of North Carolina in 1903, or Eugene Ely showed seven years later that an airplane could indeed take off from a ship, Navy women served in the nation’s wars. During the Revolutionary War, women sailed on ships of the Pennsylvania Navy, and Maryland’s warship Defence included Mary Pricely as a nurse. Mary Allen and Mary Marshall filled a similar role aboard the USS United States during the War of 1812. Women aided naval operations during the Civil War as lighthouse operators. The Navy established its Hospital Corps—first proposed 85 years before—during the Spanish-American War of 1898, using mostly male nurses, although four female students from Johns Hopkins University, and six more from the Daughters of the American Revolution nurses’ register volunteered and served. Compelled by legislation, the Navy created a female nurses’ corps in 1908; at the eve of U.S. entrance into World War I, their high performance led to their stationing at naval hospitals inside the country as well as overseas.

While the fastest growing segment of naval power in World War I was the flying corps, the 11,000 women that served for the Navy were only permitted in Naval Coastal Defense Reserve. That restriction would be eliminated in World War II.

Almost eight months after Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Public Law 689 establishing the Women’s Reserve as a distinct branch of the Naval Reserve. Unlike WWI, the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, or WAVES, could serve as officers. Thirty-eight unique ratings, or occupational fields, were available to officer and enlisted WAVES; most served in clerical, health care or storekeeper positions. Enlisted WAVES performed duties as machinist mates, parachute riggers, metalsmiths, aerographers mates and even pigeon trainers. In total, of the more than 100,000 WAVES that served in WWII, 23,000 executed aviation-related duties.

The Women’s Armed Services Act of 1948 provided women the opportunity to serve as permanent members of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force—albeit in limited-duty status. Navy women served during both the Korean War and Vietnam War eras in a number of roles. In 1972, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo Zumalt issued Z-Gram 116, the first salvo of equality that would increase opportunities for women in the service, eventually leading to women serving aboard ships, attending ROTC and the U.S. Naval Academy, becoming line flag officers and aviators.

The following vignettes feature the unsung heroes of Naval Aviation—the support team. 

Cpl. Chloe Aldrich

Security Chief, Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron (MALS) 36
“I decided to join the military out of an aspiration from my father. I chose Naval Aviation specifically because I enjoy the exhilaration of aircraft, and it is rewarding to be a part of our airborne battle force.

“One day after returning from Underwater Egress training in Hawaii, I was flown with my peers to a remote field op. Having the opportunity to be in the field with my Marines and subordinates was not only an adventure, but it was a great honor to be promoted [to Corporal] by my command in this manner. I will forever hold that with me.
“The biggest struggle I’ve found was being myself. It can become difficult to implement your own values when so many others try to carve theirs into you. I’ve been graced with great knowledge from those before and beside me, but I’ve learned that the biggest step you can make for yourself is to be true to who you are. I have participated in [everything] I can get my hands on to be a better version of myself.

“I think women create the element of diversity and a different perspective. Where a woman may express grace, a man may express strength, and both may co-exist in harmony. Both benefit from each other’s perspective.  

Sgt. Lukrecia Alonso 

Mobile Facilities Maintenance Technician, MALS-24
“I wanted to be the first generation in my family to join the U.S. military and to set an example for future generations. As a young girl, my favorite thing to do was watch airplanes fly; I would go to every airshow that I knew of. It did not matter whether I was watching military aircraft or commercial aircraft. From then on, I instantly knew I wanted to work on or as close as possible to airplanes.

“There was a point in my career where I did not want to stay in the military because I felt like it was not letting me be the person I used to be before joining. Throughout the years I’ve learned that the strict rules and regulations only made me better as a person and as a leader.

“One of the greatest challenges I have experienced throughout my career was deploying to the East for seven months. Being away that long was stressful for my husband because he was alone with my 3-year-old son who was constantly asking for me.

“The inspiration comes from within, having a career within Naval Aviation has brought opportunities to enhance my career while the experiences have also made me into a more knowledgeable leader.”  

Lt. Cmdr. Amanda Lippert

Aeromedical Safety Officer, Naval Test Wing Atlantic
“My career started the way a lot of people’s careers do. I was in college and it was getting expensive… it kind of started with a very vanilla goal to do the initial contract and see what it’s about and then get money for college, and never really intended to kind of fall in love with it the way I did. Here I am 23 years later.

“As an Aerospace Physiologist, it’s been a pretty diverse career path. I served a lot of it with the Marine Corps and got to be a part of that journey as the Marines were declaring IOC [initial operational capability] for F-35B Lightning II and standing up their very first squadron out in Yuma, Arizona.

“I was selected to be the first fellow at NASA. And for that fellowship, I was studying human performance in extreme environments. So, they kind of let me run with scissors a little bit and figure out what projects would be best for me to study, how I could leverage what I know already from Naval Aviation to support NASA and its missions but then also, more importantly, learn how NASA does things differently and bring that back to Naval Aviation at the end of the two-year fellowship.

“I am a huge proponent of just having a diverse population, whether that looks like women or whether it looks like others; it’s good to have different approaches and different perspectives and thought processes. The more the more diversity that you have, the better, in my opinion.”  

Cpl. Juliana Carda

Air Traffic Control, Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 13, 3rd Marine Air Wing (MAW)
“I decided to join the military right out of high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I also wanted a little bit of experience and to get out of my hometown.
“The person who inspired me the most to seek a career in Naval Aviation would be my dad. He started working on his pilot’s license right when I was about to join the Marine Corps and it inspired me to learn more and choose a career that would challenge me.

“I am currently qualified on radar flight data, final control and approach high. A moment that really stands out for me is getting qualified on approach high; it’s just an accomplishment that sometimes you’re unsure that you’re going to get and it’s nice to see that when you put in the work you get the outcome you were hoping for. The greatest part about being ATC is that you really do make a difference and its rewarding to feel that way.

“Advice I have for the next generation in Naval Aviation is that it is what you make it. You will have good and bad days but, at the end of the day, it’s very rewarding when you put in the work and get the outcome you wanted.”   

Sgt. Jocelyn Cerrato

Aviation Supply, MALS-24
“I was inspired to pursue a career in Naval Aviation by my dad who also served at a Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron. Though he did not work directly with aircraft, he always carried the upmost pride in his job and being a part of aviation.

“I joined the military because like many people, I came from a small town and wanted more than what it had to offer. When I was child, my parents would take us to air shows where I fell in love with the idea of being part of the aviation community in the military.

“The greatest part about being in Aviation Supply is watching our aircraft depart the flight line safely and successfully, knowing as a team in Aviation Supply, we helped make that happen. Another cool aspect is seeing our Marine Corps aircraft in movies and how they play an important role even behind the scenes. This really opens the big picture behind aviation importance.
“A major highlight in my career would be my deployment to Okinawa, Japan. This being my first deployment, I learned and explored so many new opportunities within my profession. This deployment had one of the biggest impacts in showing me the big picture behind each vital role we play in the aviation community individually and as a team.
“My advice for the next generation interested in Naval Aviation would be to always remember why you started that career. It’s easy for things to become repetitive and seemingly old, but never forget why you started, and always remember your importance to the overall mission both individually and as a team.
“Women in the aviation community bring inspiration and confidence to other females by showing that as a female, you really can do anything you put your mind to.”  

Gunnery Sgt. Stephanie Guebara

Audit Branch Staff Non-Commissioned Officer-in-Charge, MALS-24
“I chose the Marine Corps because I knew college was not right for me at that time in my life. I chose Naval Aviation because my recruiter was an Aviation Supply Marine, and hearing his stories made me want to make my own. He told me how supply was a tight-knit community, and I have always appreciated people taking care of other people.

“The greatest part about being an Aviation Supply Marine is seeing how we directly affect the flight line.

“The highlight of my 18 years in the Marine Corps so far was being able to compete in the Combat Shooting matches in 2016.  I was the only female to compete on Marine Corps Base Hawaii, and they asked me to shoot in the championship match in Quantico, Virginia, in May 2016.  I was the only female to compete there as well.  It was amazing to be outside of my comfort zone.
“Sometimes I find myself being an amazing Marine, taking care of business at work, taking care of my Marines and Sailors, but my family takes the back burner.  Then other times, I find myself being an amazing mom, but the Marine side is lacking.  What it really takes to be able to balance both worlds is a great support system.

“Women bring balance to the aviation community.  As women in the Marine Corps, we bring a different aspect to how to approach situations and how to get the job done. We think outside the box and bring a different flair to the community.”  

Lt. Nidia Ortizmadrigal

Aviation Maintenance Duty Officer, Commander, Naval Air Systems Command
“I’m originally from Nicaragua. I came to the United States in 2000, but I joined the Navy in 2004. I definitely did not know much English. And definitely I learned a lot in the Navy. I had great peers that helped me throughout my career with that, and I also was able to gain my citizenship when I was in the Navy. So, to me, the Navy has helped me a lot.
“I have done seven deployments. I love to travel, and I have visited so many different places. So to me, that is a huge highlight because that was something that I was not going to be able to get if I just got a different job. And as an enlisted, as a maintainer, my biggest highlight there was that when I was able to actually fix the aircraft and see it actually fly, it was really rewarding. As an officer, being able to take care of my sailors and work together with other enlisted sailors, and that to me is really rewarding, it’s one of the biggest highlights for me to be able to help.
“Women bring a different perspective, different view. I don’t want to compare, but we definitely bring a perspective where we tend to think about everything else that is around the issue or the matter at hand. We don’t just think black and white. We think about everybody else and everything around us.”  

Staff Sgt. Miriam Khattab

Aviation Supply, Wing Aviation Supply Management Advisory Team, 1st MAW
“I decided to join the Marine Corps on March 7, 2016, in Brooklyn, New York. I went from being a little girl scared to be anywhere near an aircraft to a Marine that was intrigued in all aspects of one.
“After becoming an Aviation Marine, I have learned so much about the importance of different types of aircraft and our role in keeping the parts for the aircraft on order and in perfect condition in order to complete the mission. I truly love what I do and am excited to continue this journey in the Aviation Supply community.
“An important moment that stands out to me is one conversation that would change my outlook on my Marine Corps career. I had a conversation with my Chief Warrant Officer in 2019 about my goals in the Marine Corps and how I would be able to achieve them. That conversation put into perspective that I would be better suited to achieve all of my goals if I were a Chief Warrant Officer myself. From that moment, I have strived to pursue the Warrant Officer route to make an impact for the Aviation Supply Marines on a greater scale.
“Women in the aviation community have proven to be as resilient as men. From 1993 when the first female Marine aviator Karen Fuller Brannen became a strike fighter pilot, she proved that women can achieve the tasks that were only required of men in the aviation community. Today, women show a great amount of strength, control, and attention to detail. Women serve proficiently and capably in their field to proudly represent the Marine Corps.
“My advice for the next generation interested in a career in Naval Aviation is to always make sure that at the end of the day you know you did your best. It is your name that you are working for and you create your own reputation.”  

Staff Sgt. Shannon Kunz

UH-1Y Crew Chief, Quality Assurance Representative/Night Systems Instructor, Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron (HMLA) 167, MAG-29
“I knew I was going to join the Marine Corps since I was in the sixth grade. I will forever be grateful to my recruiter for suggesting an aircrew contract. At the time, I had no idea what I was signing up for, but looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing. If you had told high-school me that I would be instructing junior Marines in a helicopter at night on night-vision goggles while they are shooting a .50-caliber machine gun, I would not have believed you.
“I have been stationed in every Marine Aircraft Wing in the Marine Corps and have been lucky enough to see how the Marine Corps operates on the West Coast, East Coast and in Hawaii. I’ve been able to deploy twice for 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit and a Marine Rotational Force Darwin. To get where I am today has taken a lot of hard work, dedication and love of the Corps.”  

Capt. Deserine Price-Jordan 

NAVAIR Commanding Officer
“I started off as an enlisted in 1986. My recruiter at the time was saying, ‘Hey, you qualify for this particular job as an air traffic controller.’ I had never heard of it. Well, once I did some research, I realized how exciting that position was and I immediately signed up for it, went to the air traffic control school, and I started my career as an air traffic controller.
“I became the first female to be commanding officer of NAVAIR, as well as the first African-American to be promoted to captain in our community. So I had great mentors to help me and guide me through that career path.
“Some of the challenges that the enlisted face, officers oftentimes cannot relate. But because I came through those struggles as an E-3, an E-4, being a single parent, you know, or the challenges with childcare. You know, the challenges of just trying to make ends meet was completely different at the deckplate level, at the enlisted level, than it is at the officer level. So I bring that in there.
“I think since aviation ever started, women have played a significant role in that. We continue to make all kinds of contributions and we see that women in Naval Aviation, whether or not you’re the pilot, the NFO, the ground pounder fixing the aircraft or the logbook keeper, whatever it is. We bring those contributions just like our male counterparts. We bring so much to Naval Aviation to help keep it going and help to meet the mission and be ready for combat.”  

Sgt. Doraly Tara 

Aviation Ordnance, MALS-24
“The greatest part about being an aviation ordnanceman is the comradery. Ordnance is a tight knitted family that looks out for our own and takes care of each other.
“I’ve always strived to make myself someone dependable and to better myself by taking on responsibilities, completing courses and getting qualifications that are important to meet the mission. With the opportunity for training and mentoring, I believe I can get further and achieve more.
“Women establish a diverse environment by incorporating different leadership styles through a different mindset into the aviation community.
“It is important to inspire and encourage the next generation to pursue a career in Aviation because what you pass on to them is what they will continue to pass onto others. If you inspire them to be a great leader they will continue to take care of our community.”  

Lt. Reece “Vamp” McKenzie

Flight Surgeon, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 261 MAG-26; Department Head, Primary Care Clinic
“My grandmother instilled in me a strong sense of determination and the belief that you are able to achieve anything and everything that you set your mind to if you are willing to put in the work.
“I wanted to challenge myself, serve my country, and be a part of a team that is dedicated to making a difference in the world. I was drawn to Naval Aviation because of its rich history and tradition and the unique challenges and opportunities it presents, from flying off aircraft carriers to operating advanced weapons systems and engaging in complex missions around the world.
“As physicians, naval flight surgeons, specifically those entrusted with the care of Marines, have the best of both worlds. We oversee the medical care of a close-knit group of motivated men and women and the leadership of corpsmen whose real-time decision making could mean life or death on the battlefield while also having the pleasure of being a contributing part of the ‘Ready Room’ and participating in flights, mission planning and other operationally relevant tasking. There is never a dull day.
“As a woman of color, diversity has always been important to me, and I feel that all forms of diversity are essential. In the male-dominated field of aviation, women bring diversity of thought, of experience and of skill. We bring a fresh approach to problem-solving and decision-making, which can and has led to new innovations and safer practices in the industry. We drive progress and break down barriers, making the aviation community more diverse, inclusive and welcoming for all.”  

Chief Warrant Officer Ashley Milner

Aviation Supply Warrant Officer, MALS-24, 1 MAW
“I enlisted in the Marine Corps because I did not have many opportunities if I didn’t leave home and I had a strong desire to do more with my life. I was pursuing a career path that aligned with my goals outside the military, which was accounting specifically. Luckily for me, the Aviation Supply specialty has several accounting and auditing facets to it.
“The greatest part about my job is getting to teach and train both junior Marines and leadership about Aviation Logistics and its application in real-world situations. It is a true privilege to watch your Marines develop into technically proficient and effective leaders within the community.
“Focusing on myself instead of what others thought of me was more important. Unfortunately, it had a lot to do with my gender above all else, but I can also say that the Marine Corps has made significant shifts to correct these cultural issues in our ranks over my career’s time.
“I cannot speak for all women in the Aviation community and can only speak of my own experiences. Just like not all men are alike, the same can be said of women. I have worked hard my entire career to see Marines as genderless, not male Marines and female Marines but just Marines. With that said, my attention to detail and ability to formulate and execute plans has significantly led to improvements in the units I have worked in. I have had the pleasure of leading Marines differently than some of my peers because of the compassion I am willing to display to them on a regular basis. The achievements I have made in my career have shown Marines around me that you can be a good Marine, and a good parent, and a good member of society.
“Not everyone can be a pilot and fly the aircraft, and it takes a lot of expertise to maintain and sustain those aircraft both in garrison and deployed.”  

Capt. Laura Schuessler

Head, Aerospace Engineering Duty Officers and Maintenance Duty Officers Placement, Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland
“When I was young—and by young, I mean eighth grade—I decided I was going to the Naval Academy. My dad had been an engineer at NASA, working on Voyager One and Voyager Two, and Cassini. So I’d been around that kind of thing. I grew up in the area, kind of a local girl in that area. You know, a local girl does well and wants to go to the school seven miles away.
“In command, the favorite moment was realizing that we were getting capability out to a joint response. So it was an urgent need and making sure that knowing that in this case it was another service not the Navy, but the Army, making sure that they had capability and the Air Force as well, so they could go do their mission—and protecting them, knowing that they were getting—that they might be getting fired at. And knowing that was really cool, knowing that we were delivering that capability super-fast.
“I enjoy this work, but being one of the few women going through, whatever you do, good or bad, is going to get recognized. We teach a lot of our 0-6s as you progress up in your ranks, more and more people are going to recognize you. But for the women, we’re recognized nearly right away.
“I think some of the experiences that we’ve been through, through our careers, be that in an engineering field or a logistics or flying in the Navy, or working on an aircraft, or being a mom at home or helping in the community, we just—it’s not to say that the men don’t—but we have a different look upon that, and that’s the value of what we’re going to bring to the table.” 

Staff Sgt. Allison Richardson

Senior NCO, Maintenance Administration, Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 464
“I decided to join the military because I wanted to follow in my family’s footsteps and serve my country. I have three brothers who served in the Marine Corps, one grandfather who served in the Navy, and another grandfather who served in the Army; out of all of them I am the only one to go into the aviation. The aviation side of the Marine Corps always interested me, and I wanted to pursue a career in a field that I would love.
“One of the challenges I have faced throughout my career is being a single mom in the military all while having a successful career. Being in the Marine Corps means at times you will have to be away from your family and there are sacrifices you must be willing to make. At the end of the day, I remind myself that I am doing this for my daughter to set the example for her as a woman and to provide for her to set her up for the future.
“Having a support system around you plays a key role; knowing you have people there for you throughout your career will truly will help you get through.” 

Cpl. Phoenix Silva Garcia

CH-53 Avionics Technician, MAG-29, Marine Heavy Helicopter Training Squadron (HMHT) 302
“Although my father envisioned a different path for me, he was my greatest inspiration in pursuing the Marine Corps and Naval Aviation. Many men in my family have served in different sectors of Naval Aviation and, while I was in my last year of high school, I realized my family’s ties to the military and the community it provided us would be ending. I didn’t want the tradition of Naval Aviation service to end, so I took it upon myself to be the first woman in my family to earn the title of Marine and pursue a military career.
“I grew up on Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, and remember when my father would bring me to work with him if he had to work weekends. I would spend time with the Marines within the offices of the Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron (MALS) and accompany my father to the different squadrons and warehouses, and get to know the Marines there as well.
“Mentoring and teaching Marines how to become Avionicsmen and well-rounded individuals has been my greatest privilege and it’s what drives my passion for this career.
“One of my biggest challenges I’ve faced so far is struggling at times to practice my trade as often as I’d like. I am involved in color guard, serve on the NCO Counsel, and work as the Single Marine Program representative for my squadron. At times, these commitments take me outside of the work center causing me to miss a less-frequent maintenance action, thus, losing that opportunity for hands-on learning.
“Women benefit the Aviation community by bringing a different approach to problem solving. May it be due to cultural factors or traditional roles, we have been raised to pursue issues calmly and with a unique sense of perspective. Traditionally women have held teaching roles in our society and tend to share what we’ve learned openly while displaying patience when it’s needed most. 

Sgt. Crystal Thung

Air Traffic Controller, MAG-13, 3 MAW
“I decided to join the military for a new experience and to push myself out of my comfort zone. It was something I always thought about doing but never really thought I would do.
“My parents were both born outside of the country and English was their second language. They have made many sacrifices to allow me and my sister the opportunity to thrive and do what they couldn’t. Growing up, making them proud has been a driving factor for me to always do my best at everything. Now that I’m older, of course, I still want to make them proud, but I also want to make myself proud, too.
“Being an air traffic controller is rewarding in the sense that I am positively impacting the safety and mission success of pilots, for both civilian and military. At first it was not a job I knew much about, but the more I learned and progressed in my career, the more I realized the importance of aviation safety.
“I could never imagine myself leading people, but now it’s one of my favorite things. It’s rewarding to see the Marines under my charge succeed.
“I believe it’s more about the work you put in, not what a man can do that a women can’t or vice versa.”