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AFSOC’s Women’s Initiatives Team breaks down barriers for female aircrew

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Cassandra Saphore
  • AFSOC Public Affairs

On November 28, 2022, Air Force Special Operations Command Chief of Aerospace Medicine, in partnership with the Women’s Initiatives Team (WIT), held a road show to educate Air Commandos on changes to flying prenatal care through the newly coined Accelerated Obstetrics for Aircrew (AOA) initiative.

These changes were made possible through DAGGER ATHENA, which is the action event of the AFSOC Women’s Initiatives Team, or AFSOC WIT. All AFSOC teammates, women, men, civilians and spouses are encouraged to share and champion identified human and family-centric barriers to readiness across the force and propose actionable solutions.

The AFSOC WIT tackles barriers year-round and conducts a DAGGER ATHENA concentrated, rapid-action event once a year. The inaugural DAGGER ATHENA occurred this summer over a 36-calendar day working window, culminating in an out-brief to Lt. Gen. Jim Slife, AFSOC Commander, Chief Master Sgt. Cory Olson, AFSOC Command Chief, and AFSOC Headquarters Directors to solve readiness, retention, recruitment, and risk issues identified from the field.

“Every leader and every Airman should want to be aware of any impediment to the mission or to a member’s service, otherwise they reduce the military’s effectiveness and ability to execute the mission,” said Chief Master Sgt. Cory Olson. “When we remove barriers our Airmen face in terms of being selected for, or successfully performing their jobs to their fullest potential, we increase the talent pool and skill set we can tap into as we face the fight of the future.”

Previously, when a female aircrew member was confirmed pregnant, they were automatically placed on Duties Not to Include Flying status or “DNIF,” now known as DOWN status. Pregnant aircrew could request a waiver to fly during the second trimester, but that wasn’t a widely advertised or even a known option.

Now, pregnant aircrew have the option to fly during all three trimesters of their pregnancy. After discussion with their physician, pregnant Airmen can apply for a waiver to fly during their first and third trimester, and can be returned to flying status by their local flight surgeon without the need for a waiver in the second trimester of pregnancy if they meet the following criteria: they have an uncomplicated pregnancy, are not in a training program, are not the sole qualified pilot on the mission, are not in an ejection seat, and are flying with a cabin altitude that does not exceed 10,000 feet mean sea level. Outside of these parameters, a return to flying status waiver may still be submitted for consideration for all trimesters, for all airframes.

It’s important to note that requesting a waiver during any trimester is strictly voluntary.

"We wouldn't be here without the work of the AFSOC WIT," said Col. Eric Chumbley, Chief of Aerospace Medicine. "They've advocated tirelessly and professionally to create policies that've enabled our pregnant aircrew, in coordination with their medical care team, to choose whether or not they want to fly, not be told automatically that they can't."

Maj. Molly Sexton, a C-146 pilot, is the first AFSOC Airman to fly during all three trimesters, upgrading to Evaluator Pilot and conducting flight instruction and evaluations, significantly contributing to the readiness and operations of the AFSOC enterprise during her pregnancy.

The AFSOC WIT started in February 2022 with the intent to action local changes that benefit the entirety of the Air Force, not just Air Commandos. Through crowd sourcing, the team shared both successes and hurdles they’ve experienced as they were powering through barriers that would otherwise be ‘invisible’ to the larger force. They then collectively identified and championed efforts based on commander’s intent.

“We are facing significant pacing and competition challenges from our peer and near-peer adversaries who want to do harm to America, her allies, and our way of life. Our competitive advantage against these global powers is the human capital of our military, our Airmen, and our Air Commandos. When facing a challenge this significant that threatens democracy and our republic, we cannot afford to leave any talent on the sideline,” said Maj. Kate Hewlett, AFSOC WIT and DAGGER ATHENA Co-Lead. “AFSOC as a command is incredibly fortunate to have visionary leaders who care about their Air Commandos, but also recognize the advantage every member brings to the enterprise. When Lt. Gen. Slife acts on our AFSOC WIT initiatives, when Chief Master Sgt. Olson champions them, it is because they know they will make the force stronger, more ready for the fight of the future. That is paramount to every initiative we propose, to increase operational readiness, reduce risk to force and risk to mission, recruit and retain the top talent for the mission, and give AFSOC the competitive advantage by leveraging diversity as a weapons system. Having leaders and champions who recognize this as a mission imperative make us proud to be Air Commandos and proud to represent AFSOC through the WIT and DAGGER ATHENA.”

Currently, 18 Lines of Effort have been identified and are being worked through Mission Area Working Groups, or MAWGs. These MAWGS are broken down by category: Increasing Operational Capacity, Support Culture for the Family Unit, Supporting Airmen in the Workplace, and Fostering Spouse Inclusivity.

This team’s hope is to work themselves out of business, where there’s true integration and not just accommodation for our Air Commandos.

“[DAGGER ATHENA] exemplifies the ability to realize potential through empowerment and decentralization,” said Capt. Brittany Pinney, AFSOC WIT teammate. “AFSOC senior leaders are fully invested in these initiatives and have been instrumental in championing these grassroot efforts.”

Anyone interested in contributing to further advancing these initiatives can contact the org box - AFSOC/DAGGER ATHENA