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AU Library makes women’s exhibit available online during pandemic

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Air University Library has made their exhibit, Female Pioneers: Those Who Did, So We Knew We Could, available online.

 “We are excited to have recently launched the new web exhibit and resource guide on Women’s Equality Day in honor of the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment,” said Dr. Mehmed Ali, Air University Library academic services director. “The guide is our small contribution toward helping bring attention to the larger issues that women continue to face a century later.”

Earlier this year, before the pandemic, the library hosted a “Lunch and Learn” panel event to unveil the exhibit. Various female veterans, whose service ranged from WWII to present day, were invited to share their experiences.

The panel included Romay Davis, WWII veteran; Sharron Cohen, Air Force veteran who fought against gender discrimination; Maj. Annabelle Hill, 42nd Force Support Squadron commander; Christine Prewitt, the deputy director of the 42nd Mission Support Group; Rita Pitcock-Gilchrist, Vietnam War veteran; and Air Force Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy flight instructors Senior Master Sgt. Tiffany Jackson-Foster and Master Sgt. Jessica Soto.

Air Command and Staff College faculty member, Dr. Lisa Beckenbaugh, moderated the panel event. The first question Beckenbaugh posed was why each of the women decided to join the military.

Davis answered the question by recounting how she enlisted in the Army and served during WWII after watching her five older brothers do the same.

“I didn’t want to be left behind. If they [her brothers] had to go, then I could go, so I went, and it’s been that way ever since,” Davis said. “I enjoyed it [my military experience]. It was a marvelous experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else I’ve ever done.”

Beckenbaugh then asked if any of the women had ever experienced battle.

Pitcock-Gilchrist, said this question was for her and tearfully shared her experience while serving during the Vietnam War.

“On January 31, 1968, I was in Saigon, Vietnam. I was one of the first WAFs [Women in the Air Force] to go. I awoke to a bellowing voice coming from down the hall yelling, ‘Barricade all windows and doors, take cover, we’re under attack!’ I was still in the carnage when the military police came up and said we have transportation to take you up MACV headquarters. They said, ‘Get in line and when you get out that door, run like hell and don’t look back, you’re going to kill or be killed.’ I was still in the carnage, smelling the stench, listening to mortars, listening to the cries of the people needing help. It was the worst feeling in my life, to not be able to turn around and help a solider laying in the street that was dead, and I had to step over him to save myself. I went over to the hospital to see what I could do. There were men laying on stretchers with [their] body parts laying on the stretchers, and they weren’t worried about themselves, they were worried about their buddies. I walked down to the chapel at the hospital and walked into the morgue by mistake. I saw the mound of bodies that had gone out of Saigon during that, and I thought to myself, ‘We’re just not getting out of here.’ I did all I could. Being one of the first WAFs over there was the most important thing in my life,” said Pitcock-Gilchrist.

Beckenbaugh’s final question was if any of them had faced discrimination while in the service.

“I married my hometown boyfriend and expected to get what the men got, which was married housing allowance. When I didn’t get it, I thought it was a paperwork problem and tried to work through it. It was not a paperwork problem, so I got a lawyer,” said Cohen with a smile and a laugh. .”

Her case was eventually taken by the Supreme Court, where it would be known as Frontiero v. Richardson, 411 U.S. 677. This court determined that it is unethical to deny military members their benefits because of gender.

Prior to this case, female military members had to prove that they made over half of the combined income between them and their spouse to be allowed dependent-rate benefits.

While the Lunch and Learn was a onetime experience, the exhibit is still on display at the library and can be viewed on their website, https://fairchild-mil.libguides.com/c.php?g=1065744&p=7753800.