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Groundbreaking AFSOC pilot retires 

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt Melissa Crisostomo
  • AFSOC Public Affairs

U.S. Air Force Col. Shelley Woodworth, formerly Col. Rodriguez, retired after almost 29 years of dedicated service to the United States Air Force and Air Force Special Operations Command on Nov. 23, 2020.  

Woodworth was the first female pilot in AFSOC, flying the MC-130P/J Combat Shadow, and went on to a distinguished career as a command pilot with over 3,500 flying hours, serving in Operations PROVIDE COMFORT, EAGLE GUARD, NORTHERN WATCH, ALLIED FORCE, ENDURING FREEDOM, and ODYSSEY DAWN.   

In May 2018, Woodworth began serving in her final assignment at AFSOC headquarters as the Chief of Programming, Force Structure, and Basing Division where she resourced and equipped nearly 20,000 personnel worldwide to build a more ready and lethal future for AFSOC’s weapons systems.   

 “I’ve been fortunate to have countless favorite moments while serving - courtesy of my crew mates, squadron mates, and people who I have had the honor to lead,” said Woodworth.  “The travel, the different cultures, the challenge of the mission, and the people are all the favorites, and honestly, Lt Gen Slife’s gracious send off at my retirement. I am humbled and very grateful.”    

During the retirement ceremony U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Jim Slife, Air Force Special Operations Commander, shared stories of Woodworth throughout her career.  

“While at the United States Air Force Academy, Woodworth ran into a Navy SEAL instructor who told her, ‘You’re not going to be allowed to join the Special Operations community because you are a woman,’” said Slife.  

In 1993, Congress repealed the ban on women serving in combat aircraft. Shortly after, AFSOC led the way, integrating women into all fixed wing aircrew positions and Woodworth found herself flying combat airframes with one of the first pilot training classes that included women.  

“I had no idea I was the first when I selected an AFSOC aircraft out of pilot training. I was well into my aircraft-specific training before I had any clue,” said Woodworth. “Honestly it was the last thing on my mind and still is today,” continued Woodworth.  “I wanted nothing more than to be the best copilot I could be, which continued over the course of my work as hard as I could to be the best at the task at hand.”   

Slife shared a story about Woodworth’s Christmas Eve in 1999 with the 17th Special Operations Squadron at Kadena Air Base, Japan. 

“Woodworth spent her Christmas Eve rescuing a teacher and 10 students stranded afloat in the Pacific Ocean,” said Slife. “As the aircraft commander, she flew her team out in the pacific to conduct a long search effort. She flew in and out of the clouds until they found the boat, dropped down rescue packages, vectored a South Korean tanker to come pick them up, and successfully saved lives.”  

During the ceremony, a letter from Woodworth’s former Combat Shadow instructor and mentor read, “I had the pleasure of being one of your first instructors in the Combat Shadow and I watched you develop your skills into a remarkable asset to AFSOC and the Air Force. You set the bar for other women to achieve the goals that you’ve set for yourself.”   

Woodworth shared advice for future AFSOC service members at the end of the ceremony. “Listen more than you speak and you’ll learn more than you know, find job satisfaction in developing others’ careers over your own, and take pride in defying those who say you can’t. Cherish every minute of it because it goes by fast.”