Female pilots earning respect in Gulf combat roles
Web posted at: 11:58 p.m. EST (0458 GMT)
From CNN Correspondent Tom Mintier
USS CARL VINSON, Persian Gulf (CNN) -- Only within the past five years has the U.S. military allowed women to serve as pilots or crew members on airplanes in combat.
But a close-up look at the professional lives of two female Navy warplane pilots on the USS Carl Vinson in the Persian Gulf suggests that they are earning the respect of their male peers.
As Lt. Cori Parker prepares for work, she flips through a thick stack of documents. "Looks like a good jet," she says.
Then a sailor helps Parker buckle up a jumble of straps and harnesses on her flight suit.
"It's a little ritual we go through every time we go fly," she said.
At 28, the fighter pilot has become one of fewer than 100 women flying in combat situations.
"It was a big shock at first, and I felt like an alien in this environment; but you get used to it," she said.
There were no women like Parker in the Navy until 1994, when the secretary of defense lifted the restriction on women in combat. While she says she is accepted by her male peers, Parker says being female in her profession gives her a certain perspective.
"I think when more women do this it won't be as big a deal, but for now it's going to take awhile before that happens. I really try to encourage women to do this because it's exciting and fulfilling," she says.
Rear Adm. Alfred Harms says he has little reason to know the gender of the pilot who sits behind the controls of each plane.
"On any given day I don't have a clue who is in which aircraft, and frankly it doesn't matter. They are absolutely one and the same, and we look at each one of our men and women as sailors. And we have great sailors on this ship," the battle group commander said.
They can be found everywhere on this ship, from the mail room to the fighter pilots' ready room. Lt. Holly Rosenberg is an "electronic countermeasures" officer in the same fighter squadron as Parker.
"This has always been deemed a man's world and even more so than the corporate world, just by the nature of what we do, our business. I think women'll find we're able to climb those ladders and become skippers of ships and skippers of squadrons," Rosenberg said.
Most ships in the Navy now have women on board, not only as fighter pilots but in most jobs once held only by men. Many female sailors say integration will be complete only when people stop paying attention to them, when their numbers approach half those on a ship. That could take another 10 or 15 years.
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