Salutes & Awards

March 29, 2013

Female Thunderbolts take front and center

Women inspiring innovation through imagination

From young Airmen to chiefs, supply technicians to pilots, women at Luke Air Force Base make a difference every day. Every person has a different story — a different reason for joining and continuing to serve. Here are the stories of six Luke women, gathered by two women photojournalists of 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs.

Women’s History Month had its origins as a national celebration in 1981 when Congress passed Pub. L. 97-28, which authorized and requested the president to proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982, as “Women’s History Week.”  In 1987 after being petitioned by the National Women’s History Project, Congress passed Pub. L. 100-9, which designated the month of March 1987 as “Women’s History Month.”  Congress continued to pass additional resolutions requesting and authorizing the president to proclaim March of each year as Women’s History Month.


Photo by Senior Airman Sandra Welch

Maj. Elizabeth Magnusson

944th Fighter Wing Public Affairs chief

I was born in Forest Grove, Ore., but have lived in Springfield and St. Louis, Mo., KodaiKanal, India, and Ukarumpa, Papua New Guinea.

I love to travel, try new things, outdoors activities and read mystery novels. I earned a bachelor’s degree in political science/international relations from Valparaiso University in Indiana and am currently working on a master’s degree from American Military University in intelligence and terrorism studies.

My parents raised me to believe I could do anything I wanted. I joined the Air Force to serve my country and have experiences I couldn’t get anywhere else. It makes me proud when I hear a little girl say “Look mommy, a Soldier.” Granted I’m an Airman not a Soldier, but what they see is a female in a position of authority, and hopefully they realize there are no barriers to becoming what they want to be.

I want to complete Air Command and Staff College and then become a lieutenant colonel.

I always encourage women (and men) to join the military. When you join you become part of something bigger than yourself by serving your country. It would be hard to find a job more rewarding.

My grandmother is one of my most important role models. She grew up in St. Louis, Mo., during the 1920s and 1930s, took a secretarial course and became a bookkeeper to support herself during a time when women married young and stayed at home. My grandmother never let conventions stop her.


Photo by Senior Airman Sandra Welch

1st Lt. Holly Gramkow

308th Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer-in-charge

I was born in Wuerzburg, Germany (Army brat), and earned a bachelor degrees in biochemistry and Spanish at the University of Portland in Oregon, and a master’s degree in aeronautical science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. I am learning to golf, like spending time with my dog Bogey and enjoy good food and wine.

Serving in the Air Force as a female means nothing different to me than it would be serving as a male. I don’t take for granted the efforts and sacrifices females made long ago, but they did it so we could all serve the same way. Serving my country and Airmen is an honor and privilege. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing.

My goals include an assignment to Santiago, Chile, as a maintenance exchange officer. I’m excited to travel and learn from another culture and military. Beyond that, I look forward to what the Air Force has in store for me.

I would tell any woman thinking of joining the military to go for it! If you have the desire to serve your country, being a female should not be a hindrance. Male or female, you need to be dedicated and proud of what the military represents and have the drive to be part of it.

My mom is my role model. She joined the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps the first year women were allowed into the program. Her strength to support what the Army required of my dad for 22 years is commendable.


Photo by Senior Airman Sandra Welch

Airman 1st Class Pisay Suzuki

56th Civil Engineer Squadron heavy equipment operator journeyman

I was born in Grand Junction, Colo., and keep active with sports and working out. I also enjoy drawing, and I love food.

I joined the Air Force after high school and am pursuing a Community College of the Air Force degree. My plans include getting a bachelor’s degree, having a family and pursuing a passion in art ranging from martial arts to sculpting.

Serving in the Air Force as a female is an honor, and I’m capable of getting the job done. I get to be part of something more than just myself.

To women considering joining the military, I would say to never be discouraged, and look at challenges as opportunities to better yourselves as individuals. There are obstacles that you will face that may seem impossible to overcome, such as basic military training or working in a male dominated organization. These are opportunities to learn about yourself, and grow stronger as a woman and as an Airman.

My favorite female role model is my mother because her unconditional love helped me become the person I am today. She is the strongest, hardest working and most loving woman I know. She built herself up from nothing coming from Cambodia at age 25 to become a successful businesswoman. I can’t imagine how difficult it was adjusting to a new culture while raising a family of 12.


Photo by Senior Airman Sandra Welch

Lt. Col. Stephane Wolfgeher

309th Fighter Squadron commander

Born in Fort Leonardwood, Mo., my hobbies are cooking, reading, various craft work, traveling … lots of things.

I never thought about serving in the military “as a female” – only about serving in the military. I think of it now as fulfilling the goals of those women who first broke the mold by joining. Now it shouldn’t matter whether you’re male or female, Asian or African American or Caucasian, or whatever category you want to use, only that you have ability and can serve.

My goals are to continue my service for the foreseeable future, enjoy coming to work in the morning and feel like I made a difference when I leave at night.

I would tell any woman thinking of joining the military that it’s a great life. You control your own destiny regardless of your profession.

My role models don’t come from a particular group. For example, my parents both had different influences on me. When I came into this career field, there weren’t many females, but there were plenty of role models. They gave me inspiration to be like them. They made me want to be competent in my field and teach those around me. They taught me what it was like to be part of the Air Force family.


Photo by Senior Airman Sandra Welch

Tech. Sgt. Loraine Reese

56th Dental Squadron, Dental Logistics NCO-in-charge

I was born in the Philippines and my hobbies include traveling, cooking, sports photography and watching my sons compete in club baseball.

I will be graduating in May with a bachelor’s degree in human resource management and plan to start another degree in July.

To serve in the Air Force as a female means continuing the legacy of great women, such as Chief Master Sgt. Grace Peterson, the first female Air Force chief, and Esther Blake, the first woman to serve in the Air Force.

Now it’s my turn to help advance opportunities for future Air Force women.

My goal is to go to nursing school and then get accepted to the Nurse Enlisted Commissioning Program. I want to help wounded warriors.

To women thinking of joining the military I would say have a goal before you join. Know and be true to yourself. It’s the key to being able to reach your goals and help those who will follow in your footsteps.

Master Sgt. Janene Buchanan is my female role model. She was my first supervisor, and is strong and goal-oriented. It is because of her mentorship and example I continue to serve. She showed me that, although the mission comes first, your family is the number one priority and has to be taken care of in order to get the mission done. She also taught me you can’t wait for opportunity to knock on your door. You have to look for it.


Photo by Senior Airman Sandra Welch

Master Sgt. Christine Wagner

56th Fighter Wing Staff Agencies first sergeant

I was born in Pasadena, Texas, and like to read, watch movies, and go to the gym. I am pursuing a nursing degree.

Serving in the Air Force as a female is an honor and a privilege. We are a family and when one of us hurts, we all hurt. As a female I’ve been afforded the same opportunities a man would have. Gender doesn’t play a role in the promotion system. We can go as far as we want to go with our careers just like men can.

My goals are to be the best first sergeant I can be, leave the Air Force better than I found it and teach others the lessons I’ve learned so they don’t have to learn the hard way. After the Air Force, my ultimate goal is to be a nurse anesthetist.

To any woman wanting to join the Air Force, I’d say “Do it!” There’s nothing you can’t achieve if you really want it. It’s been a very rewarding experience for me, and I would have never met the people I cherish if I hadn’t been in the Air Force.

One of my female role models is Col. Yolanda Bledsoe because I eventually want to become a nurse. She is very genuine, honest and she truly cares about everyone under her command. I highly respect her and would go anywhere with her and do whatever she asked of me because she has truly earned my respect through her actions.

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