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24th SOW vice delivers keynote speech at Women Veterans Memorial unveiling

  • Published
  • By Capt. Alejandra Fontalvo
  • 24th Special Operations Wing

Col. Allison Black, vice commander of the 24th Special Operations Wing, Air Force Special Operations Command, delivered the keynote speech at the unveiling ceremony of the Okaloosa County Women Veterans Memorial in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. Nov. 11, 2021.  

The memorial, located at Veterans Park on Okaloosa Island, will now feature eight statues of women veterans throughout history. Included in the list of honorees are: Margaret Corbin, a soldier in the revolutionary war who fought courageously next to her husband in the Continental Army; Cathay Williams, an African American woman who enlisted under a male alias to serve in the U.S. Army during the civil war; Jacqueline Cochran, a pilot from Defuniak Springs, who became the first woman to break the sound barrier in a fighter aircraft and receive the Distinguished Flying Cross; and U.S. Air Force retired Maj. Naseema, a fellow Air Commando, who was born in Afghanistan and later became a Pashto linguist, critical in the early days of the Global War on Terror.

“The stories of the women honored by these monuments are utterly remarkable, but they’re not surprising,” said Brig. Gen. Scott Cain, commander of the 96th Test Wing at Eglin Air Force Base and ceremony guest speaker. “They exemplify everything we look for in our heroes and in our leaders: the American spirit and courageous service with grit and grace.”

Cain shared a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt during the height of World War II encouraging women to serve, “This is not a time when women should be patient, we’re in a war and we need to fight it with every weapon possible.” He noted how the women memorialized in the park also weren’t patient when it came to serving their country.

“Col. Black is everything Eleanor Roosevelt had imagined,” Cain said as he introduced Black. “Distinguishing herself as the first female AC-130H Spectre navigator to open fire in combat operations and the first female recipient of the Air Force Combat Action Medal. She’s an exemplary leader, Airman and represents not only the Air Force core values, but our nation’s values.”

Black, a native of Long Island, New York enlisted in the Air Force in 1992 as a Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) specialist and later earned her commission as a navigator for Air Force Special Operations Command. She has flown a total of over 3,400 hours with 2,000 combat hours in the AC-130H Spectre gunship and the U-28A Draco.

“What an incredible way to celebrate Veterans Day,” said Black. “The women memorialized here in the park represent the best of all of us. Like all of their brothers and sisters in uniform, past and present, they kept the promise that we will bear any burden and endure any hardship in the cause of freedom.”

Black recalled her early years as one of only a few female combat aviators and specifically, her first combat mission in Afghanistan. During this mission, the Afghan general and leader of the Northern Alliance was surprised to hear a woman’s voice on the radio of a warplane. The Afghan general would later share his engagement with Black to a group of Afghan women at a Burkha unveiling ceremony to encourage the women to continue resisting Taliban rule.

“Like many women I had no idea the impact I was making,” said Black. “Every one of us has a story and as we walk on the trail outside and remember these specific eight selfless women, many more stories will come to light and those stories will become inspiration for the next generation as they find their way in the world.”

When wondering about how the women memorialized in the park felt about being honored this way, Black felt confident that the women would understand the importance of sharing their story and setting the example for others like her and her fellow Airmen to follow.  

“This memorial for women veterans is important for our community as it provides a place to be inspired, it provides a place for families to gather and talk about sacrifice and bravery,” said Black. “It will serve as a reminder to young girls and young boys that anything is possible.”