Thinking of when women were not in leadership positions is foreign to many of us because we work with and for them, every day. Over the years, the Air Force has undergone many changes. During that time, the expansion of women into leadership roles in the Air Force was gradual.
As the nation expanded its view on the roles of women, so did the Air Force. In 1971, the first woman received a commission through the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps program. That same year, Jeanne Holm, director of Women of the Air Force, became the first woman in the Air Force promoted to brigadier general. In 1976, Joan Olsen entered the Air Force Academy as the first woman cadet at any of the three Defense Department’s service academies.
Luke Air Force Base reflected the Air Force’s march forward. On May 23, 1975, Capt. Linda Ware became the chief of Central Base Administration at Luke, an important nonnurse position below squadron command. On Sept. 1, 1975, Capt. Lois Swider took command of the 58th Headquarters Squadron, which was a small unit that took care of the wing staff. One possible early female commander of a large squadron was 2nd Lt. Shirley Patterson, who commanded the 58th Services Squadron between Aug. 6, 1979, and July 17, 1980. On March 15, 1985, Maj. Cheryl Joubert took command of a large squadron at Luke AFB, the 405th Component Repair Squadron. The problem is the names Shirley and Cheryl could be male or female and the histories do not say.
That situation changed with the next female commander, who had a major impact on Luke AFB. At the time, Luke AFB had two wings and an air division. In 1987, Maj. Sharla “Kris” Cook arrived as the maintenance operations officer for the 58th Tactical Training Wing’s deputy commander for maintenance. A year later, on June 10, 1988, she took command of the 58th Equipment Maintenance Squadron. On June 20, 1989, Cook moved up to command the 58th Aircraft Generation Squadron as a lieutenant colonel. On Jan. 11, 1990, she was elevated to the assistant deputy chief of maintenance for the 58th Tactical Training Wing. She served in that position until Oct. 1, 1991, when Luke reorganized to one wing. She then became the deputy commander, 58th Support Group until she left in June 1992. While in that position, she was promoted to colonel.
Cook then went to the Industrial College of the Armed Forces and then commanded the 8th Logistics Group at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea. On Jan. 1, 1998, she was promoted to brigadier general, and in April 1999, she took command of the 82nd Training Wing at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. She retired in August 2001.
After Cook’s time, women continued to expand their horizons at Luke AFB. In June 1993, the 58th Logistics Group claimed the first female group commander, Col. (later Maj. Gen.) Elizabeth Ann Harrell. On Feb. 10, 1994, the 555th Fighter Squadron graduated, in the F-15E basic course, the Air Force’s first female fighter pilot, 1st Lt. Jeannie Flynn (later, Maj. Gen. Leavitt). Later that year, the 61st Fighter Squadron graduated the service’s first female F-16 pilot, Capt. Sharon Preszler. On May 24, 2012, the 309th Fighter Squadron welcomed the first female fighter squadron commander to base, Lt. Col. Stephane Wolfgeher.