Off they went..!! AF’s women Airmen raised the bar

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Joe Yanik
  • Air Force District of Washington Public Affairs

In its 1987 issue entitled ‘The Glory of Flight’, Airman Magazine commemorated the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force as a separate service by saluting the men and women of the Air Force who had served their country honorably since the dawn of American military aviation through the present.


The issue contained page after page of short stories about past aviators, navigators, engineers and radio operators who distinguished themselves as heroes during our country’s wars. Many of the Airmen’s names are familiar to those who know Air Force history – names like Gen. Jimmy Doolittle, Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager, Col. Charles DeBellevue and Sgt. John Levitow.   


One of the stories highlighted the service of Lt. Mary Helen Gosnell, a World War II veteran and a Women’s Airforce Service Pilot. Gosnell was one of the more than 1,000 women aviator graduates assigned to operational duty during World War II.


Created in August of 1943, the WASP program’s mission was to have trained female pilots provide flying support in order to free up male pilots for combat. An experienced flyer, Gosnell flew secret missions, couriering documents and transporting personnel and supplies involved with the development of the atomic bomb toward the end of the War. Because of their service and expertise, WASPs, like Gosnell, earned a place in American military aviation history alongside their blue-suited brothers.


Though Gosnell passed away in 1993, her legacy lives on in the heart and mind of former Air Force Capt. Annette Martiny, who now works as a civilian for the Air Force District of Washington. As the unit deployment manager, Martiny administers deployment taskings from the moment the unit’s military or civilian members are tasked to deploy until the moment they complete all reintegration requirements at the end of their tour.


“My grandmother was an acquaintance of Mary Gosnell,” said Martiny. “She recommended I pay Mary a visit in 1987 because I was living near her home in Woodland Park, Colo.,” said Martiny.


At the time of her visit, Martiny was a junior enlisted Airman, completing her technical training in aircraft maintenance at nearby Lowry Air Force Base, Colo.


Martiny said that during her hours-long conversation with Gosnell, the former WASP shared stories about her experience as a woman in the military and about her historic flying missions.


“I was so amazed by Mary’s courage, drive and intelligence,” said Martiny. “Yet she was so humble and kind at the same time.”


As a token of their newfound friendship, Gosnell gave Martiny the original photo used for the Airmen’s Magazine article.


“She encouraged me to keep the photo as a tangible item I could hang onto for when things got rough,” said Martiny.


After earning her officer commission in 1999, Martiny deployed three times. During her tour in 2004 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II, she too made a mark on Air Force history in her own way. Then-Capt. Martiny was the Air Force’s first female truck company commander to embed with the U.S. Army while conducting combat operations during OIF.


There were other Air Force units conducting convoy operations, but it was the first time a capability from one service department, an Air Force transportation flight, was deliberately embedded into another service department, an Army truck company.


Martiny added that the lessons learned from this feat were fed back to HQ Air Education & Training Command, resulting in the inception of a new pre-deployment training course titled Basic Combat Convoy Course.


For her leadership in balancing her team and her unit’s mission of maintaining superior operational readiness in a forward operating area, Martiny was awarded the Bronze Star in 2004.


"As a woman who served the military, I'm so grateful to Mary for her superior contributions to women in flight," said Martiny. "Confronting the many challenging times during those missions, having Mary's photo on hand would provide me with a renewed sense of focus and determination. I truly believe that Mary, and other women like her, paved the way for women like me."

March is Women’s History Month, a time set aside by Congress to promote the study, observance and celebration of the role of women in American history. It is fitting, therefore, to recognize that throughout our country’s history, women in uniform, like Gosnell and Martiny, have raised the bar for present and future generations of Airmen by breaking through barriers and forging fresh paths. In doing so, these servicewomen in blue make valuable contributions to mission success, while playing a vital role in the Air Force’s legacy of honor and tradition of valor.