BRADLEY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Conn. --
Female service in the U.S. military dates back to long before women were first legally allowed to enlist in 1917. In fact, as early as the beginning of the Revolutionary War in 1775, women were serving as nurses and cooks in military camps. However, it wasn’t until July 8, 1948, that the first female, Sgt. Esther Blake, was allowed to enlist in the Air Force as a part of what was then known as the Women’s Air Force.
Over the last 70 years, women in the ranks have come a long way in gaining equality with their male counterparts. Today, women serve in almost every U.S. military unit and have the option to enter in to hundreds of career fields.
According to 103rd Airlift Wing Historian Maj. D. E. Draegor, “The first non-prior service female to enlist at the 103rd Airlift Wing was East Granby resident Cynthia Firsick, in August 1973. However, there were also prior-service women serving as nurses who held junior officer rank serving with the unit much earlier.”
Today, you may meet female pilots, journalists, aircraft maintainers and medics – among many other female Airmen – working on Bradley.
Airman 1st Class Kayla Tosses, who works in in avionics guidance control with the 103rd Airlift Wing Maintenance Squadron, said that people are often surprised to learn that she works in a male-dominated career field.
“When people ask me what I do in the Air Force, they often expect me to say that I work in medical, or finance,” said Tosses. “They never expect me to say I work in avionics guidance
control, and when I tell them, they often say, ‘You can do that?’”
Tosses developed her passion for working on aircraft and being in the military from watching her father, who was also an aircraft maintainer. She wanted to follow in his footsteps.
“When I was in high school I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. When I saw this job was available, I immediately knew this was the place to be,” Tosses said.
Tosses said that although she works in a squadron with mostly males, she’s never felt as though she was at a disadvantage. Luckily, she has had a positive female role-model in her unit to help her find her place within the squadron.
“Angelique Leeman, who recently retired, was the only other female in my shop,” Tosses said. “She helped me get comfortable in the new environment and always made sure to check up on me, which I really appreciated.”
Tosses said she does not currently have any strong female role models on the base, but does, in fact, have a lot of positive male leaders to look up to. Because of this, she strives to be a strong female role model to newer female Airmen.
“Being a strong role model is important because not everyone has these role models in their everyday lives,” Tosses said. She also explained that she encourages other women to enlist, and even inspired a friend of hers to join the United States Army.
“The military is definitely male-centered, and it’s very hard,” Tosses said. “However, once you gain the respect of everyone around you, you feel this new sense of empowerment, confidence and self-respect that you didn’t feel before. When I came in, I felt like maybe my co-workers felt like I didn’t know anything, but I proved them wrong. They look at me in completely different light, and that’s really the best part of being a female in the service.”