“I put on this uniform because I love my country,” said Senior Airman Elizabeth Hanson, 366th Security Forces Squadron response leader. “Even though I know it can be dangerous, I chose this job because I can protect people. As a woman, I put aside my gender each day and I see myself as a security forces warrior.”
Before the 1970s, women were not allowed to participate in any police or security matters in the Air Force. In 1971, for the first time, women were allowed to enter law enforcement specialist training, but only at the Security Police Academy on Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.
In 1985, women were officially allowed to join the security forces career field. That means no job under that career field was banned from them. Since then, female defenders of the Air Force have become great assets, accomplishing great achievements and influencing change within the department.
In 2006, another milestone was reached. According to the USAF Police Alumni Association, the first female security forces general officer, Maj. Gen. Mary Kay Hertog was selected as the USAF director of security forces.
Just last year, two 366th SFS female defenders, Staff. Sgt. Anna Hale, 366th SFS response leader, and Senior Airman Kaitlyn Faughn, 366th SFS response leader, were coined by the former Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett for their bravery in protecting Mountain Home Air Force Base from a high-risk traffic stop.
“The individual was carrying several pounds of drugs, evading law enforcement and was trying to make his way into the base,” Hanson said. “They [Hale and Faughn] picked up the call and were fully aware of the situation. They both stood outside (the gate) ready to deploy the barrier at any case and sure enough the individual came, he raced down to the gate and they closed the barrier, thus stopping him from entering the base and causing any more damage.”
Though women defenders have come a long way since the 1970s, modern changes are still needed to keep up with their growing numbers in the Air Force.
A recent change includes the 366th SFS ordering new female cut plate carriers, to help improve female defender’s efficiency in performing their jobs.
“The old vest was supposed to be for all body types but they were more meant for males and it was a huge struggle for women because it was ruining our backs,” said Airman 1st Class Syreese Klineline, 366th SFS alarm monitor. “We recently have been getting issued what we call ‘female vests’ and the fit is a lot better. I feel like it helps women further progress because we have less back issues.”
The purpose of the plate carriers is to hold the defenders’ weapons, handcuffs and all of their necessary gear while the interior holds ballistic plates. The new carriers, which are adjusted to a more V-shape style to fit the female body, will allow female defenders to operate with the same capabilities but with better equipment. Mountain Home AFB was the first base in Air Combat Command to supply the female-cut plate carriers, but soon after, the carriers were issued to every Air Force base with female defenders.
These types of changes have aided the performance of female defenders in security forces and lessened the gap between gender inequality in their career field. However, more change was coming and it would be felt by all the female Airmen in the Air Force.
On Feb. 10, 2021, new standards for women’s hair were implemented. The new standard, according to Air Force Instruction 36-2903 Dress and Appearance states, female Airmen will be able to wear their hair in two braids or a single ponytail with bulk but it cannot exceed the width of the head. Plus, the length cannot extend below the top of each sleeve inseam at the under arm through the shoulder blades. Furthermore, women’s bangs may now touch their eyebrows but not cover their eyes.
For a career like security forces, this new regulation can aid in reducing overall day-to-day stress of female defenders so they can focus on the mission at hand.
“My female wingmen were constantly getting migraines and it was stressful but now that they have this release it essentially makes the job easier to operate,” Hanson said.
The female defender’s influence in the Air Force has aided in positive change over time, but the Air Force must continue to consistently adapt to the times. If changes like these can improve the overall performance of the Airmen in the Air Force, then this type of change becomes not only good for women’s equality and inclusivity but also strategically necessary.
“There will always be room for improvement in any sort of aspect, but, yes, I absolutely believe that things have gotten better,” Hanson said. “There’s a lot more acceptance and what the Air Force and security forces are concerned with is ‘can you do your job?’ Which means they are focused on character which is what it should always be about and I agree with that.”