Dyess Air Force Base hosted the Dyess Women’s Summit in celebration of military women April 29.
The inaugural event marked the 80th anniversary for Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP, as well as the 80th anniversary of the 317th Airlift Wing and the 80th anniversary of the 8th Air Force.
The celebration highlighted all-female aircrews from across the Air Force, showcasing military heritage to over 170 students from ROTC units, local elementary schools and visitors with base access.
“Today was very fun,” said Olivia Pallister, a third-grade student at St. John’s Episcopal School and daughter of Lt. Col. Heidi Pallister, 317th Operations Group deputy commander. “I liked looking at the planes and I learned that the WASPs were women in the military just like my mom.”
The summit featured key speakers Maj. Gen. Laura L. Lenderman, Air Mobility Command director of operations for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration, Chief Master Sgt. Melvina Smith, Air Force Global Strike Command command chief, and Erin Miller, author of the book “Final Flight” and granddaughter to WASP Elaine Danforth Harmon. The guest speakers spoke about the past, present and future of women in the military to include culture changes made by women.
“I enjoy participating in events that help shine a light on the history of the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots and help share that history with the younger generations,” Miller said. “It’s a good way to honor their legacy and help everyone learn how important it is to recognize the service of the people who have come before you.”
The WASP program was established in August 1943, just four years before the Air Force was officially founded in 1947. The idea came from Capt. Jacqueline “Jackie” Cochran, who wrote to then first lady Eleanor Roosevelt in 1939. The note suggested using women pilots in non-combat missions. Though much of the WASPs’ historical significance to wartime operations was classified for 35 years after the war, WASPs filled a critical role in World War II missions such as transporting and testing aircraft.
“This day in West Texas, home of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, we celebrate women and men who have chosen to serve their country, as well as honor all those who came before us,” Lenderman said. “Today is an opportunity to celebrate the achievement of women aviators and to celebrate the opportunities for everyone in the U.S. Air Force.”
The members of WASP inspired generations of women to join military service, including pilot Terry Rinehart, one of the first 10 women to be hired as a commercial pilot, and Col. Kimberly Olsen, one of the first female pilots in the Air Force. In recent years, the military has recognized the endeavors of women in the service, creating opportunities in career fields and combat roles previously unavailable to them.
“I believe we’ve always been in the arena, and now there’s a higher acknowledgement and heightened awareness of us being in the arena,” Smith said. “I’ve seen nothing but progression in our military. It makes me hopeful, and I hope it provides you reassurance as well.”