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Clockwise from lower left, 1st Lt. Alison, Capts. Heather and Waynetta and, Senior Airman Lyndi, all from the 376th ERS, fly an all-female KC-135 Stratotanker air refueling mission over Afghanistan Jan. 31 2003. (Photo by Capt. Elizabeth Ortiz)

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Ladies’ night over Afghanistan
by Capt. Elizabeth Ortiz
376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

Early on Jan. 31, a KC-135 Stratotanker took off from Ganci Air Base, Kyrgyzstan, carrying more than 180,000 pounds of fuel and an all-female crew — the pilots, a navigator and a boom operator.

The event marked the first all-female crew to fly an air refueling mission into Afghanistan from Ganci.

“We’ve been really lucky,” said 1st Lt. Alison, the navigator on board. Last names are being withheld for operational security. “You don’t always deploy with a lot of women. The fact that we have four women on this deployment, and the fact that we make up a crew is amazing.”

After living with each other in the same tent for almost two months, the women were eager to fly on the same mission.

“We’ve gotten along really well living together, so we were very excited to finally be able to fly together,” said Capt. Waynetta, one of the two pilots on the mission.

The women, including the other pilot, Capt. Heather, and the boom operator, Senior Airman Lyndi, are all assigned to the 99th Air Refueling Squadron at Robins Air Force Base, Ga. They have been deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom since Dec. 9.

Once inside the tanker, the women began their pre-flight and take-off duties with an ease borne of plenty of experience and skill. Most of them have deployed before, to places like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iceland and Thailand.

Between the four of them, they total almost 4,000 flying hours in the KC-135.

The flight path to Afghanistan traversed three of the “Stans.” The country itself remains a dangerous place. Just a few days before the historic flight, coalition forces on the ground encountered the heaviest fighting since Operation Anaconda last year. Norwegian F-16s from Ganci dropped munitions in support from the air.

Once over Afghanistan, the crew got down to business, refueling F-16s from participating air forces of Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway. Based at Ganci, the aircraft provide combat air support to coalition ground forces.

Senior Airman Lyndi talks to F-16 pilots from the European participating air forces as she prepares to refuel their aircraft during an air refueling mission over Afghanistan. Lyndi is a KC-135 Stratotanker boom operator currently assigned to the 376th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron at Ganci Air Base, Kyrgyzstan. She was part of an all-female crew that flew.

“It’s awesome knowing that I’m having a direct impact on the mission,” said Lyndi on her 17th combat mission over Afghanistan.

“The fighters couldn’t put bombs on target without gas, and I’m the one who gets it to them,” she said.

More than 50,000 combat missions have been flown in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

In all, Lyndi refueled 10 European F-16s during the flight, off-loading 63,000 pounds of fuel.

“I’m accomplishing something with my Air Force career,” said Alison.

This is especially true in the case of OEF, an operation that more than 1,800 women support, according to the public affairs office at Central Air Forces, the air component of U.S. Central Command.

“I’ve always thought the greatest thing I could do with my life was to serve my country and be willing to die for it — for my family, my neighbors, people I don’t even know,” Waynetta said. “Now, we’re here supporting troops in Afghanistan who are defending our freedom and way of life.”

Basking in the early morning sunlight, the tanker headed back to Ganci.

As the snow-capped mountains poked out above the clouds, the women reflected on the significance of the flight.

“All we wanted was to fly together,” said Lyndi. “I’m so excited we got to do it.”

“We believe in equality,” Waynetta said. “But, the fact of the matter is, we’re girls, and we’re doing something our grandmothers couldn’t do.”

(February 14, 2003)