It has been almost 65 years since Staff Sgt. Esther Blake became the “first woman in the Air Force”, and paved the way for countless women to come after her. Women have joined the U.S. Air Force under various career fields, and many hold jobs that are generally considered male-only fields. This series will recognize these pioneering women who are leading the way for future female Airmen and the Air Force in general.
Lt. Col. Jennifer Short, 358th Fighter Squadron commander, is one of nearly 20 female A-10 Thunderbolt II pilots Air Force-wide.
The 358th FS is one of two A-10 pilot training squadrons here.
Short grew up in a military family. Her dad was a fighter pilot, and her brother went to the Air Force Academy when she was in high school.
She didn’t think about joining the Air Force straight out of high school, because women weren’t allowed to be fighter pilots yet. The problem was, that was all she wanted to do, if she was going to join the Air Force. So, she did not apply to follow in her brother’s footsteps.
When Short was a senior at Arizona State University, the rule changed about females flying fighter aircraft in combat.
“I was in Phoenix at the time, and Luke AFB is there. Jeannie Flynn was one of the first female fighter pilots and she was flying the F-15E, and was on the local news,” Short said. I remember seeing it and thought, ‘Wow she graduated from Stanford and had a master’s degree in aerospace engineering.’ So, I thought that because I was a marketing major, there was no way that I could be a pilot.”
After graduating from ASU, Short got a job as an assistant buyer for Dillard’s Department Stores.
“It was great, but I worked for a year and didn’t like it,” Short said. “I think it’s because I grew up in the military, watching my dad being able to make it to T-Ball games and be around on the weekends, and I really missed the family atmosphere.”
“When I worked at Dillard’s I would go home on Fridays and nobody checked-in on me, on weekends we didn’t go out and do stuff together,” Short said. “Then I would come back to work on Monday and it was very 9 to 5–detached– so I missed the Air Force I think.”
In November 1994, she applied for Officer Training School.
“I knew I wasn’t going to be able to be a pilot, but I applied anyways. I got a maintenance officer training slot and was very happy with that,” Short said.
Before OTS, Short was approached with a navigator slot.
“So, I went to navigator school,” Short said. “I was a C-130 navigator for two years. Then, I got to go to pilot training. As soon as I got to pilot training, I knew I wanted to fly an A-10.”
Short takes pride in her job and working alongside her Airmen.
“Hands down my favorite part, and my number one priority, is taking care of my people.” Short said.
Of course, with every job there are challenges.
“The most challenging part is finding that right balance between taking care of my people and making sure my squadron has the right resources they need to do their job.” Short said. “My instructor pilots are the best in the Air Force, and it is my job to make sure they have everything they need to continue to be the best. My goal is for them to be happy in the work place so that they are developing professionally. I believe it’s a challenge to do that and be a mom of an 18-month old.”
Short added. “I love that my challenge is being a good mother, a good wife and a good commander. I mean what a great problem to have, and I love it.”
Short said when she first started out as an A-10 pilot in 1999, it was a challenge for female fighter pilots. Fourteen years later she sees a difference.
“The kids coming through now, as students, and the majority of the instructor pilots have grown up with females flying with them in pilot training and flying A-10s,” Short said.
“When I came into the career field, there were still a lot of folks who had never flown with female fighter pilots. The current generation has always known females to be in their squadrons, so they are used to it, and are great with it.”
“Our mission is to train combat ready pilots,” Short said. “We produce the best A-10 pilots for Air Combat Command, and I know we are the best at doing what we do.”
My primary care and responsibility is taking care of the Airmen, because those people are the ones that get the mission done.
When asked what she wants to be remembered for when she leaves the 358th FS Short laughed and said, “I don’t want to leave.”
“I hope when my Airmen look back on my command, they remember that I was a good commander, but it’s multi-faceted,” Short said. “I want to be remembered as a good instructor pilot since that is my primary duty, and then as a commander. I also want to be remembered for taking action and making things better for my Airmen. I want them to be able to say that I tried my best to give them what they needed to do their job and they felt supported.”
Short feels that her former experiences as an A-10 pilot prepared her for the commander seat.
She said she has worked with good and bad commanders. She watched how they worked, and she picked up on what she liked and what she didn’t like about their leadership styles. That is how she learned to be a commander.
Short was also an aide-de-camp for a four-star general in the Pacific.
“I watched him be genuinely concerned about his people,” Short said. “He wasn’t just looking six months down the line. He was looking at a one-year plan, a five-year plan and even a 10-year plan. He was always one chess-move ahead with manning and personnel concerns. I really think he worked hard to take care of his people. I believe every assignment has helped me be able to do this job.
Short says that Jan 27, 2012, the day she took command of the 358th FS, was the best day ever. “It has been, by far, my best job. To be honest, it will probably always be the best.