Women’s History Month: A time to reflect on struggles, successes

Jean Best-Richardson
Incirlik Air Base, Turkey

Last week, I approached a young Airman and asked him to participate in our Women’s History Month Program. His immediate response was, “Why isn’t there a Men’s History Month?”
When I thought about it, I realized this young man probably never lived through some of the circumstances I experienced. Maybe he genuinely did not understand the condition of women in the military environment and society as a whole in the past. He encounters women of all ranks every day. He might see women who are commanders, doctors, lawyers, lieutenant colonels, majors, captains, chief master sergeants, senior master sergeants, master sergeants and civilians, women who are officers, flight chiefs, directors and managers.
This made me think of how many young military men and women might not realize what it was like to be a female military or federal employee in 1969. Many people might not know the long strides the military took to allow women to hold positions in the military equal to men.
I was hired as a telephone operator at the Philadelphia Naval Base Aug. 11, 1969. At that time, upper-level managers were men and women were teachers, secretaries, telephone operators or cashiers. The few women supervisors I encountered were supervisors of female employees only.
When I arrived at Hahn Air Base, Germany, in 1972, I was denied a job as a telephone operator because I was pregnant. After more than four years of federal work, I now couldn’t get a job. After my pregnancy, I was allowed to continue my federal career.
My next base was Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., where I was hired as a civilian personnel clerk in 1972. I worked on the Federal Women’s Program. The FWP helped women to apply for non-traditional jobs on the base. We provided female military spouses (most of the males were active duty) and civilian women with the information they needed to convert their volunteer experience into paid positions. We assisted women with acquiring positions as telephone linesman, construction workers, supply technicians and aided them in seeking a formal education.
Immediately after the personnel job, I became a clerical assistant in the civil engineer squadron. All the engineers were men, but the Air Force was making a serious effort to recruit female engineers. Then, women were not only expected to type, take shorthand and make travel arrangements for the entire staff, but to make coffee as well.
So, when I think about the young man’s question about why is there is not a Men’s History Month, I know that men had an advantage all those years because women were not readily accepted into the traditional work force. Now, we have come to a time when in the military women receive the same salary as men for the same quality and quantity of work.