December 29th, 2009
09:43 AM ET

Female aircrew eager for Afghan mission

(CNN) - Sgt. Stephanie Cole joined Britain's Royal Air Force more than three years ago to fly into battle - and not, as she says, to stay on the ground and "fly a desk."

Soon, she'll finally get to do what she signed up for - working on a helicopter crew in dusty and rugged southern Afghanistan, where British, U.S., other international forces and Afghan soldiers are slugging it out with Taliban militants.

"I'm looking forward to it," said Cole, 24 (on the far left in the photo above).

She will be among four female air crew members deployed to a pool of more than 100 pilots and loadmasters beginning New Year's Day to handle the newly-deployed Merlin helicopters in battle-scarred Helmand province, a haven for insurgents and an illegal drug trade.

The other three are pilots Flight Lt. Michelle Goodman, 32, the first woman to win Britain's Distinguished Flying Cross for her actions in Iraq; Flight Lt. Joanna Watkinson, 29; and loadmaster Sgt. Wendy Donald, 31 (pictured left to right after Cole). Three others are still in training.

Royal Air Force spokeswoman Lesley Woods said their presence in the Afghan war zone reflects a British societal trend: More women are considering careers in wartime and are realizing "they can play a part in today's armed forces."

The four-person Merlin crews will pick up casualties, fly supply missions and use machine guns to fend off Taliban fire. It is possible all four women will be deployed on one helicopter. Merlins can haul up to 20 people and they will complement the work of the Chinook, Sea King and Lynx copters.

Earlier this year, the four trained in southern California, where the hot and dusty environment resembled Afghanistan's.

Goodman and Watkinson practiced "evasive flying maneuvers" and Cole and Donald trained on the helicopter's three 7.62 mm machine guns, the British Defence Ministry said.

What's it like being females in a male-dominated military? The RAF's Woods supplied their comments from transcripts of interviews.

Their male counterparts, Goodman says, are great sports.

"You don't really notice any difference, it's just every day," Goodman said. "You always get banter but that's what you expect. If I didn't get banter I would think there was something wrong."

Watkinson agreed, saying she doesn't really notice being one of a handful of females on the Merlin force.

"You start your officer training and there's two or three girls on your flight and you just go through training and get used to the fact that you're one of very few girls around the place. The boys are the boys, they always will be, and I get on with them really well, but it is quite nice when you're flying with some other girls around the place that you can be close friends with."

Some women who join the military are following their male relatives.

"It was sort of following in the line of the family and it was something I wanted to do as well," said Donald. And, Cole said, her father is in the RAF and she has "kind of always grown up around it."

Goodman says, "It's a good career" and emphasizes that it's not "widely known that women can come into the military, that they potentially go out to places like Iraq and Afghanistan."

Watkinson said there will always be doubters who think women can't take on certain tasks because of their gender.

"I've had a few people tell me that in the past and I'd like to see them one day and go, 'Hah, told you!' "

She too has had relatives in the British armed forces, including her grandmother, a nurse who was "one of first females ever to be awarded a commission in the army.

"There's a lot of forces history in the family but I don't think as an only child girl I was ever going to follow down the same thing. My mum, dad and step-mum are all immensely proud. All my family are very proud."

Cole's female friends think her career is "pretty cool."

"They're all struggling in jobs and debts from university. I know some of my friends think, 'There's absolutely no way you'd catch me doing something like that, you're bonkers,' but it's good."

Watkinson said she "attended an all girls' school and all of us girls had the school's full support for whichever career we chose."

"I have friends who have become lawyers, dentists, doctors and business women - all areas which used to be very male-dominated. We were taught that we could do whatever we put our minds to, shown each year when a number of 'old girls', including myself, return to the school each year for the careers convention. It's amazing to see the support we have from the girls there today and their families."

As for the work, it will be in tough terrain. Comparing Iraq to Afghanistan, Goodman said, "Obviously the threat is slightly different out there as well and there's a lot more happening and going on. And ... the Merlin force has expanded so much over the 18 months we've got a lot of new guys who are going to be coming out with us who will not have been on operations before."

Also deployed in the past to Iraq, Watkinson said the skills learned in that war will come in handy in Afghanistan. But there will be differences. "The Merlin has operated in Iraq at the height of the threat and will perform equally well in Afghanistan; with tasking that will be similar, covering trooping, underslung loads, replenishment tasks and casualty evacuation. The Taliban have had many years of fighting and so are very experienced; and with the inhospitable, high altitude terrain in Afghanistan, our task will require top notch training and engineering," she said.

Watkinson noted the unique challenges in Afghanistan for pilots.

"The area of operation is large and predominantly at high altitude. All engines suffer from reduced efficiency in hot climates and rotor blades, by their nature, have decreased lift at high altitudes," she said. "In addition to this, mountain flying on night-vision goggles is a difficult skill to master; with various wind effects through the mountains and dust clouds at most landing sites. The combination of these factors means that the operation of the aircraft is a challenge."

Is the work particularly arduous for a woman?

"It is a hard job. I don't like to say it's too tough, it's different," Donald said. "I like to put the girls on the same level. It's hard but you just get on with it. The best bit is flying in different places. We've been in Iraq for a few years; Afghanistan coming up, for myself in January, I'm going out with my flight in January, and that's going to be something new. Coming to places like this, doing different training, something new. You don't get to do that in an everyday job. Flying is what I've always wanted to do so that is definitely the best part for me."

The aviators expect to shoot, be shot at, and possibly, be shot down or "forced to ditch their aircraft in hostile territory," Britain's Defence Ministry said. But Goodman said their minds will be on their tasks.

"If we thought about the threat continually, we would never be able to do our jobs," Goodman said. "Obviously, we always bear it in mind in terms of our actions but when you're in the middle of a dangerous sortie you just get on with your job."

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Filed under: Behind the Scenes • Troops
soundoff (101 Responses)
  1. Randy

    Makes me proud to call myself a feminist. Now if we could just get men to stop devaluing "women's work," like teaching and caring for children. Can't wait for the CNN story that says,

    "Male kindergarten teachers eager to mentor children."

    December 29, 2009 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  2. KC

    Maggie: I assure you, I am neither jealous NOR defensive. Quite the opposite in fact, I'm trying to make people realize that a piece like this isn't much more than a fluff piece.


    Because women have flown missions for a LONG time now in combat. Why do we feel the continued need to applaud them for the same service that the men are doing?

    Should we write something about an all black aircrew?
    Should we write something about an all male aircrew?

    NO, because these things have likewise all been covered already.

    A soldier is a soldier, plain and simple. Women need to realize that this job should not be taken for the possibility that there will be an article written about you, or about blazing trails. It should be taken with the idea that you are defending your nation, and you might die doing it.

    In that way, ALL soldiers are equal.

    December 29, 2009 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Nzeworld

    This is an inspiring story, I am PROUD of you as all true Americans, Go and show the world that what a man can do a woman can do it better, My prayer is that GOD will guide and protect all during your stay in Afghanistan. GOD BLESS AMERICA ..

    December 29, 2009 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Bernie Mccluskey

    I wonder if the medals/awards would have been there for males in the same situation????
    There is a big push on for gender equality but the playing field is not level.

    December 29, 2009 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Manyok

    you go girls!

    December 29, 2009 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
  6. VoiceOfReason

    I don't know.... now when a pilot gets shot down we not only have to worry about them being interrogated and killed; now we will have to hear the stories of how our daughters are captured and raped. Stupid idea although I admire their conviction.

    December 29, 2009 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Susan

    Way to Go...; they didn't have those opportunities when I was young, so this is great!

    Stay safe and Gods speed...

    December 29, 2009 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Travis

    By the way to all who state go get them... Could you elaborate in go get them??? Remember 18 Vet Suicides Per Day? Why do you think this is? Could they have seen something they could not live with, or perhaps they did something they could no longer bare? The most up to date estimation of Iraqi deaths DUE to the U.S. invasion is now... 1,366,350.
    There have been 4,690 - coalition deaths. And when all is said and done, no one even knows why the U.S broke innumerable international laws and geneva conventions to start a war for no logical reason. No ask yourself, are you proud to be assassins? America? I dare you to LOOK UP how many countries the U.S has invaded since W.W.2???

    December 29, 2009 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Harry

    Wow, Women pilots and their jobs is to find religious fanatic men who deny women education, women basic rights and shoot them in the arse, well done and keep up with good work.

    First of all, you know when the purpose is right; you always win.

    December 29, 2009 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
  10. jsmart

    It's the mission, no matter man or woman. The goal is the same. That is what is trying to said and heard. Get it? Got it? Good!!!

    December 29, 2009 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Chris Bowers

    Excuse me-I typed "Women Army Service Pilots" but meant "Women Airforce Service Pilots" (WASPs).
    The RAF photographer who took this great shot must have been aware of "Pistol Packin' Mama" (you can see it if you look up WASPs in Wikipedia).
    Great article & photo.

    December 29, 2009 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
  12. larry

    I don't think it's a good idea. I was over there 5 times, and observed alot of men get in harms way trying to protect the women. It might not be fair, but most of us were raised to do so. It is in our genetics to do this. I worked with flight crews that have women, and they have flown to certain areas over there to drop off material. I know we lost a few men who have put themselves in bad spot were they were injured because of this. Nothing against women, and they do pull their own weight and more.

    December 29, 2009 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
  13. levsaguelo

    Nice.. This is a genuine diversity in the Military which could lead women aspirants in the future. Great job!

    December 29, 2009 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Gail

    They should have more women in the limelight!!! You go girls!!! Be safe and show em who is boss...

    December 29, 2009 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Feet Wet

    Nice job, ladies! Safe flying and happy hunting. To Pragmatic Aircrew: I got my wings back in the mid-90s, at the height of old-school losers who whined about standards being lowered. There were many instances where my performance equaled or bettered my male squadronmates and I got lower flight grades–and those guys would be the first to confirm this if you asked them now.

    Am I bitter? Hell no, and let me tell you why: myself and my female colleagues who lived through this, and are now done flying and on to other endeavors, are, to a woman, kicking butt in our new fields (law, medicine, engineering, etc.) I think that goes to show that we got used to having to work really hard to survive the nay-sayers and now that we're in jobs where we're not being cut down by idiots like yourself are thriving because of that work ethic. We never NEEDED the approval or the high marks, but now that we've GOT them, it makes for some sweet revenge.

    As for the small-minded dudes who tried so hard back then to make us miserable, none to my knowledge is now doing anything even slightly noteworthy with his life; most became low level bureacrats who were ultimately outshined by their own wives.

    December 29, 2009 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
  16. maggie

    Nikkii...Thanks to you and of course ALL the women and men of the armed forces for their service.
    KC–You sound jealous and defensive. You don't get it. The point is that not that long ago, women were considered legally to be the same as children. It wasn't that many decades ago that we couldn't even vote. In reality women have been fighting forever...they just haven't been recognized for it. Laws have been used historically to shut women out of many arenas in life. Those laws must come down.

    And as for "why are we in Afghanistan"..because that is where the 9/11 attacks originated, and that is where the Taliban are currently condemning women to a life of pure hell. We make a lot of noise about human rights, but when it comes to doing something about the women of Afghanistan, we fall down on the job. I hope these British flyers kick butt over there and blow the Taliban to kingdom come.

    December 29, 2009 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
  17. Lori

    My father did 22 1/4 years in the RAF much of which I never knew because of his position. It's a life that I miss. It's nice to see that the face of the RAF is changing to include women on the front line.

    I wish these ladies and all who put their lives on the line for us back home well. God Bless!!

    On a separate note, to the author of this piece, don't you think that you are giving out a little too much information regarding how the merlin handles itself in rough and high altitude desert terrains? Just a thought, especially being as we are dealing with ENglish speaking folks who are "infusing" themselves into the Taliban?

    December 29, 2009 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  18. Mags

    You can do anything you want if you put your mind to it.

    December 29, 2009 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  19. Donna, former US Army Nurse

    What an inspiration you are, Ladies! All I can say is, "GO GET 'UM, GIRLS!!" and "Come home safe. Thank you for your service!"

    December 29, 2009 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  20. CP

    It is good to see this article but im not sure what the big deal is. Women have been pilots for a while. The comments about men and women having the same requirements on aptitude testing is a 10% true. When it comes to Physical testing saying they have the same requirements is 100% false. The military physical standards for men and women in a lot of cases are ridiculously easier for women. Im all about women serving in the military. The main problem is that they are not be held to the same standard in a lot of cases and that is where the problem lies. Im sure there are some women out there who can do my job but i have yet to meet one. I do not feel that women should every be in certain areas of the military such as the special forces units, the tanker units and in the Infantry units. Im sure a lot of people would not agree with this statement but then again the majority of those people have never served in combat. Going to Iraq or Afghanistan is one thing, Going out of the FOB and looking for a fights is a completely different thing. There are support units for a reason and what they do is very important to the military but when it comes to fighting you need a certain type of soldier.

    December 29, 2009 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  21. Joe

    America is a bit ahead of the UK, I've flown with women for the past few years in the Marine Corps

    December 29, 2009 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  22. Ellen

    what about us women who design and build the hardware AND software for these Rotary-Wings?? We have been doing this for years, not as glorious as piloting them, but we are so into what we do, so as to protect our great pilots and their passengers.

    December 29, 2009 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  23. themoi

    As a 99 (women pilot's organization) I salute you ladies! Blue skies and tailwands to all of you!

    December 29, 2009 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  24. Tom

    Great story...I agree any press on the progression of women in the military is fantastic. In regards to the US military, the fact is they regularly put women as Trans Commanders (TCs; basically convoy commanders) and gunners manning 50cals and M249s in gun trucks on Combat Logistic Patrols (CLPs) that guard the supply convoys that run up and down the Iraqi highways. The biggest threat to Soldiers the last couple years have been those roads and the continued attacks on convoys (luckly these attacks have severly declined over the last 2 years). So these women definitely see combat. As for flying, I am unsure but i don't see why they would not or could not in the future.

    December 29, 2009 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
  25. Jay

    Nice job! go get them

    December 29, 2009 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
  26. RemainCalm

    I'd be much more inspired by a story about all servicemen and servicewomen coming home from the Middle East. Let them fight among themselves over there.

    December 29, 2009 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  27. mcbill

    Fantastic Job Ladies!...Very Proud to have you on our side! Take Care and God Bless!!
    P.S. Now Travis, if you don't like it here, go back to where you came from! Chances are you are from here, and just enjoy stirring the pot!! (Or Smoking it)...LMAO

    December 29, 2009 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  28. Justin

    All female US C-130 aircrews have been flying into theater since the beginning of the war. Also, female fighter pilots have been conducting combat missions for years. (OIF, OEF, Bosnia). No biggie here folks.

    December 29, 2009 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
  29. Nobodys Perfecft

    KC – Point taken about these females being "just soldiers". But, just as Pragmatic Aircrew has the misguided idea that standards must be lowered in order for women to participate, so do alot of other people. A few comments here state that the women must meet the same qualifications and standards as the men ... which is news to alot of people. I, for one, would have loved to have joined the armed forces when I was young. I could shoot more accurately than most of the "boys" in the neighborhood I grew up in, run just as fast, lift just as much weight, etc. But the misconception of alot of people is that women can't do that; they think that women can't "compete" in the man's world, whether it be in business or in armed conflict. I believe the intent of this article is to show those unbelievers what women can actually do.

    December 29, 2009 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
  30. Jessica

    congradulations!!! i wish you the best of luck on your trip. and you ladies to make it home safe. FLY SAFE!!! =)

    December 29, 2009 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  31. Nan

    Carry on, you valiant warriors! If I was 25 years younger, young women, I would run to get in line with you!

    May God keep you all well, regardless of your gender, race or nationality. In a dangrous world, we must all step up and put our courage to the sticking post (as England's famous bard once said).

    December 29, 2009 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  32. ihls

    Those girls look great. All geared up, willing, ready, able and courageous. Keep up the good work along with the boys. AIR FORCE!

    December 29, 2009 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  33. Supernova

    Poster #56,KC, the article wasnt to make the ladies feel special – it just shows another side of the armed forces that many dont think about. Women werent put on the earth just to stay home and have babies!

    Go forth and kick butt ladies!!

    December 29, 2009 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  34. maggie

    Pragmatic Aircrew–Are you aware that in the early days of the space program, when they tested women for possible astronaut jobs (because mass was so important and women are generally smaller than men), the women actually scored higher than their male counterparts? They were given the same tests, not something less difficult. With proper training there is no reason the women cannot do as good a job as the men. The only reason "special accomodations" had to be made anywhere in the military is that conditions (bathrooms, etc.) were not in place for female soldiers. Of course women should be held to the same standards as male soldiers, that's a given. We have female police officers and firefighters who have performed just as well as men. I pray that war will someday no longer be necessary, but as long as it is, let's use every resource we have, including these dedicated and valiant soldiers who just happen to be female.

    December 29, 2009 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  35. Paul

    Canada has had female helicopter pilots flying in Afghanistan for a while now

    December 29, 2009 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
  36. Shannon

    This is wonderful. Though I have no intentions of joining the armed forces, this inspires me as a young woman to do anything I choose with my life, no matter the obstacles. Thanks ladies and i wish you all success in your missions and safe returns home.

    December 29, 2009 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
  37. Louie

    As an Infantry Viet Nam Vet I want to say how incredibly proud I am of you ladies.

    The challenges and dangers ahead of you are great, but!!!, I can just see the enemies faces when they see that 7.6 mill machine gun smoking up their ass. A Royal Lady kicking their prehistoric, barbaric male asses. How sweet.

    I will pray for you saftey and well being. Remember!!, shoot first, ask questions later.

    In Virginia

    December 29, 2009 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
  38. angelika

    Pretty cool I think . I wish all our International and National military families and soldiers alike, that you are surounded with love, support, understanding. Thank you all for saving our Freedom. May the good Lord above keep you all save. Wishing you all the best. Wishing that more women would sign up. If I was healthy, I would join the American Navy in a hard beat. Hugs to all you soldiers. Sincerely Angelika Bertrand, greetings Utah/USA

    December 29, 2009 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
  39. James Dee

    Not sure why people have such a loose definition of "hero", more than likely US media brainwashing. Can you stick to actual news and no propaganda pieces ?

    December 29, 2009 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  40. Travis

    Honestly I am so exhausted of the U.S military being portrayed as heroes IN THE MIDDLE EAST... not to say they are not heroes, but this is entirely circumstantial, when you DEFEND your people, you are truly deserving of this title, or when you are a Liberator I believe that then as well merited is this title... But when you are they invader, never should you be considered a hero, maybe the majority that read this cannot understand the frustration of having foreign tanks rolling down your streets, you don't know the what it is to fear that you may never see again, your child or mother, father, brother, sister just because they went to the bakery to get bread. Oh yeah by the way, thanks again INVADERS

    December 29, 2009 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  41. Trey

    Great work ladies, wish you all the best and a safe tour!


    December 29, 2009 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  42. Jim Brieske

    Women should not be in harm's way or in a combat area. If one or all of these women are captured by the enemy; then, every male they have came in contact with will be adversely affected and their combat ability decreased. It is not worth the risk.
    This is just genetics. God has designed males to protect females. It's just the way it is. You can not change it.
    Men fight, women bare children.

    December 29, 2009 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  43. Gene Weed

    Go Grrrls!

    Show those S.O.B.'s what AMERICA is all about.
    I am PROUD of you as all true Americans are.

    December 29, 2009 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  44. Acerworld

    Great Work and hats off to the brave Women !!!

    December 29, 2009 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
  45. Wendy

    I love this story, It is very inpiring to women.

    Thank you cnn

    December 29, 2009 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  46. KC

    Nobody's Prefect: I guess my point here is that we have soldiers of all colors and sexes all over Afghanistan at this point. What REALLY makes these women deserve a special article on the headlines of CNN?

    Do they dly better than the men?
    Do they DIE better, are they mourned more if lost?

    I think not. They should simply be viewed as soldiers, not anything deserving of special recognition or distinction.

    Most soldiers I know would agree – they are just soldiers. Not FEMALE soldiers, but soldiers.

    December 29, 2009 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  47. westrum

    Never thought I'd live to see this day. I'll be 60 in January and amazing changes have occurred for women since I was a young gir. Congratulations to the British for their open mindedness and the very best of luck to these brave and fine young women.

    December 29, 2009 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
  48. levs

    I like this diversity increases productivity...

    December 29, 2009 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  49. Josh

    Great job ladies. Show them how it's done.

    December 29, 2009 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
  50. Kansan

    You go Girls..!
    Good Luck God Speed to all our Military -you are ALL HEROS thanks for putting it all on the line and defending freedom.

    December 29, 2009 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
  51. Nikki

    I'm a Female Company Commander currently serving my 4th Deployment in Afghanistan. Thank you, CNN!! For always giving fair and accurate coverage to the WOMEN that are out here serving with distinction during this war.

    FOX News claims to have diverse and inclusive reporting, but in reality all they do is hurl their Ultra-Conservative, annoyingly divisive spin attacks at our Commander in Chief. Ugh. They are so blinded by their patently partisan politics that they refuse to acknowledge how truly catastrophic their spin is to us Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines.

    What we simply MUST do is to lift our voices high with praise for those incredibly strong, brave Female Air Crew members. The mountainous terrain in Afghanistan can be extremely daunting for even the most experienced pilots–particularly now that it has started to snow here!

    Hopefully by the time my daughter is old enough to understand, the accomplishments of these Female Trailblazers will be so commonly reported, that their ubiquitous service will be the norm, vice the exception.


    December 29, 2009 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  52. AF Way of Life

    To Pragmatic Aircrew: I have served in the military for over 20 years and I can tell you that as a woman my "aptitude" scores are higher than most men in my career field. I can lift almost as much, and well more than is needed. Maybe your time has passed and it's time you retired. I have had to compensate way too long for old men who can't do the things that I can do but still get paid more than me. It's time for us all to move on! I have had the great fortune to be able to work with both men and women from the UK and other countries and I can tell you that each and every one has the same goal in and security for all our people! Go to work ladies!

    December 29, 2009 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  53. Danna

    Oh WOW, this is the best thing I have read today. I have so many female friends in the ARMY protecting our country, and it is great to see others and for everyone to know Women can do it, They are strong, willing and able. Thank you CNN for the story. Ladies a double Thank you from a Navy Vet. herself proud of you and hopefully the US will follow suit to allow their woman more coverage during this time.

    December 29, 2009 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  54. Andrew Reid

    I am glad to see other countries that allow women to serve on the front lines. Along with Canada, the UK has started to recognize the equality of women in the battle zone. Canada has had women combat pilots and ground personal in various theaters for the past several years. It is time for the other so called westernized countries to start allowing their women in all aspects of their armed forces.

    December 29, 2009 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  55. Nobodys Perfecft

    To KC – This article is not about sensationalism but of courage and hard work. "Is a womans life any more precious than any other?" No where in this article does it state – or even imply – your inferrence. It is, however, just a statement fact that Britain (as well as many other countries) are ahead of the US as far as women in combat.

    To Pragmatic Aircrew – It is highly doubtful that any statndards were lowered to award Flight Lt. Goodman Britain's Distinguished Flying Cross ... and if she heard you say that, she'd probably be in your face big time lol. The same "lowering of standards" issue has been raised in many other career areas, such as police work and firefighting. However, I believe that these women, as well as the female police officers and firefighters around the world, are held to the same high standards (and sometimes even higher) than some of their male counterparts.

    To the four women in the article: Good luck ... and knock 'em dead!

    December 29, 2009 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  56. Ray

    Quite a striking symbolic contrast when you think of it. These highly trained and competent women are fighting the Taliban, who want to keep women veiled and illeterate.

    December 29, 2009 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
  57. Steven

    Eager to kill? How inspiring! The world needs more doctors, not more bomb-droppers.

    December 29, 2009 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
  58. Jim

    Really great story! It's about time they let females fly in combat situations. Most of the females joined the military to fight for their country and what they believe in. Now they get a chance to actually get the job done.

    Keep up the great work out their in the skies, on the ground and seas! Want to wish all the military Men and Women a Happy New Year. It's going to be a great 2010 for the U.S. Military.

    Paino, USN

    December 29, 2009 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
  59. HLCM

    Is Pragmatic Aircrew jealous? Does he think women are less or can't do as well as he can? He's part of the old guard. Years ago there was a saying"Women have to work twice as hard to be considered half as good...fortunately this is not difficult." I bet PA wasn't around when women were fighting for management and upper tier jobs. When female attorney's languished in Jr. partner-land. The armed services are not 'dumbing down" to allow women to fly planes, women are stepping up to the challenge.

    I heard a female US Navy flyer speak last summer. She had to pass the same tests and take part in the same physical challenges as the guys. Even though I had never met her before and will probably never meet her again, I listened to her and was so proud I couldn't speak.

    December 29, 2009 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
  60. Mike

    Great work!!

    December 29, 2009 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
  61. Igorota Pinay

    Goooo!!! ladies. Luv' ya all and accomplish the mission. Be safe and return to daddy and mommy. Hurrah!! to the courageous women of the 20th century. Thank you very much to the author, such a great report.

    December 29, 2009 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
  62. Southern

    Good to see the girls ready, willing, and able. You go Girls!

    December 29, 2009 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  63. Shane

    Britain can't find enough men to volunteer, so the ladies have to step up! I don't know whatever happened to britain. If you look at Britains fighing history and compare it to now....its sad! I wish they all would have just stayed home and let the U.S. do all the fighting. There lousy little numbers are embarrassing to themsolves i would think.

    December 29, 2009 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  64. HLCM

    40 years ago I watched TV as planes and helicopters landed and took off,on an aircraft carrier. I wanted to "do this"so bad I could taste it. My vision started declining and I chose a Medical career. When the movie "Top Gun" came out I was told by a guy friend, "Well you're a girl, of course you can't do that" It makes me so proud to see young smart women flying all kinds of miklitary aircraft. To know that this could be a carreer my daughter could choose, is verry gratifying. A friend of mine was one of the first women in Logistics in the Air Force in 1980. She helped pave the way and these young women are "living the dream" Congrats all around from someone who wished she could have been there too.

    December 29, 2009 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
  65. Lisa

    Excellent!!! Rock on sisters!!!

    December 29, 2009 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  66. CPT Hickman

    Great Story CNN! I too enjoy reading about the warriors abroad and the other countries supporting the war on terrorism. There was also a first a year ago, two all female american flight crews flew missions in Iraq. Those crews flew on Christmas Day and was made up of women from the Hawaii, Minnesota and Washington Army National Guards.

    Keep up the great work- men AND women of the armed forces of the world!


    December 29, 2009 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
  67. Peter

    Godspeed ladies...

    December 29, 2009 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  68. Denise

    What strong, brave women! An inspiring article.

    December 29, 2009 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  69. Suzy

    These women have won the battle for gender equality and now are going into battle for their country. Keep fighting ladies and come home safe!

    December 29, 2009 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  70. damon

    I don't see why this is news. Males and females have been in combat together for some time now. This isn't a new thing. Nevermind what big media puts in front of you as current. Noone in my 6 years of service ever had any real problem with the women or homosexuals within the command. This entire issue is nothing more than a distraction.

    December 29, 2009 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
  71. Roland

    Happy hunting, ladies. Stay safe and may God keep you safe as you
    imbark on your dangerous missions. Bring back our combat sodiers
    safe from harms way. Your in our prayers every day. Oh yes, if Bin Ladin gets in the way, well you'll know what to do!

    December 29, 2009 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  72. Becca

    Dear Taliban:

    You think the Marines are bad? Don't mess with the sisterhood, baby. You are NOT going to win.

    Melin flyers: Time to kick some derriere. 😉

    CNN: Thanks for the great story on some awesome sis-tahs.

    December 29, 2009 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  73. Pragmatic Aircrew

    All well and fine, as long as standards are maintained and that there is a measure of pragmatism in accommodating female aircrew. I've live through the "trendy years" where standards were lowered to meet them and a host of special accommodations had to be incorporated to make the integration process function (rather dysfunctionally, I would add). We can all 'make do,' but when it comes to fundamental standards and the rigours of the job, there can only be one standard. I can only hope that the UK doesn't make the same fatal (yes, I mean fatal) errors that have been made in Canada and some other countries as a result of "lowering standards" to fulfil political agendas. By lowering standards, I'm referring to the 'adjustments made to not only essential aircrew capacities (aptitude), but also fundamental physical requirements (strength, acuity, etc). With only 3,500 hours of military flight time (I'm still rated), I don't count myself as an expert per se, but I can speak from personal experience that there is a price to be paid when we accept less than the highest of standards for personnel, male or female. As Langplugh said, "Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect." Let's hope that we are successful in not unnecessarily increasing risk out of political expediency.....

    December 29, 2009 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  74. Paul SF

    ...if we could only get one of them in the whitehouse.....

    December 29, 2009 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
  75. jess

    This is just RAD. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE seeing the (4) women geared up like this. Thanks for this article. I enjoyed reading.

    December 29, 2009 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  76. Jim Dolbow

    Thanks for the article. However, Flight Lt. Michelle Goodman,did not win Britain's Distinguished Flying Cross for her actions in Iraq. She was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. To use the word win implies she won it in a lottery and it cheapens her award.

    December 29, 2009 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
  77. Jim

    My daughter has been in the USAF for 12 years, Loves It, we need everybody to fight
    terriorism if we are to succeed, And we will!!

    December 29, 2009 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  78. DA

    It's nice to see things have changed so much for the better in regards to women since my time in military service. These soldiers have every right to be proud of what they have accomplished and to be respected for what they do in the same way as their male counterparts. Well done, ladies. Well done.

    December 29, 2009 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  79. Sunny Stewart

    Just so very inspiring!!! Right on!! And when will the USA catch up!! I hope that to go along with the hoopla we are thanking them for their service and their contribution to this war effort and to moving us closer to an end to this horrid war! God Bless those women!

    December 29, 2009 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  80. Glenna in TN

    Go girls go!!!! I was in the USAF in the 60s and it was not easy being the only female in my technical training school and then the only female in the communications job I was assigned to. I'm glad to hear that things have changed for this next generation of women in the military. It's our country, our freedom and our right to defend it.

    December 29, 2009 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  81. Robert W. Henry

    It is the fighting spirit that one has to go into war and provide a service. This is what pilots and military soldiers do....they want to serve their country in any way they can. I hope nothing but the best for this group of pilots and for all of our fighting pilots and even the men and women who are fighting on the ground as well. Good luck and God Speed!

    December 29, 2009 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
  82. Joseh Kokro

    An inspiring Story. My Hat's off to those Women who dare to say we can do it too.
    Thanks to you, CNN.

    December 29, 2009 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  83. Venus

    This is truly a spirt of call to duty with honor. May you all be blessed for your dedication.

    December 29, 2009 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  84. TOM P.


    December 29, 2009 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  85. Da Hawaiian

    We in hawaii had our own Tammy Duckworth who lost both legs in the war.I plaud those women from briton who want to take this task.We are sure going to fool the insurgents when fire power comes from an aircraft thinking men are firing at them and yet it's our courageous women who can do just as well or even better than some men in combat. Go get 'em girls. I wish for your sake you all get to go and show your stuff. God Bless all of You!!!!!!

    December 29, 2009 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  86. Steve Fauser

    I worked with two RAF pilots flying the Puma helicopter during the 2000 floods in Mozambique. The conditions were austere to say the least. They were superb aviators, very professional and just happened to be female.

    December 29, 2009 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  87. Gary

    No doubt, the world's finest!
    Just last night watched Frank Capra's movie series
    of how the British women kept
    the Germans out of London in WWII.
    We will be thinking of you gals!

    December 29, 2009 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
  88. Marc

    I can not beleive I am going to say this, but this is a good article CNN. Ladies from one proud American Vet. Thank you and keep up the great work! Gender should never be considered a boundry.

    December 29, 2009 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
  89. Candi

    Finally - coverage on the women who risks their lives for this cause! Thank you, CNN.

    December 29, 2009 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  90. bonatay

    In response to post by: Ba Thai.......I could not have said it better. DITTO!! I liked this story.

    December 29, 2009 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
  91. Dutch

    Great photo! Great story. Are the 'girls' from the UK less harrassed by their mates than the girls in the American forces, I wonder.

    December 29, 2009 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  92. Abby

    Good for you ladies! Keep up the great work!

    God Bless!

    December 29, 2009 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
  93. KC

    I think this article is a bit of sensationalism not really needed. I mean, let's be honest a woman's life any more precious than any other? This is the 21st century. Women serve in the military, but due to some outdated thought process there are those that believe that in certain places a woman just shouldn't go. Submarines for example....

    I figure women fought hard for equality, they might as well share in the risks as well.

    December 29, 2009 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  94. Stephen

    Inspirational young women. Thanks for the report.

    December 29, 2009 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
  95. EMMA

    This is soooo inspiring that I got teary eyed. I wish you all the best and a safe return after your mission. Thank you for servirng our country you are greatly appreciated by many. I can't type anymore because the tears won't stop rolling.

    December 29, 2009 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
  96. Pete

    I don't know, it looks like Buck Rodgers stuff with women pilots.

    December 29, 2009 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
  97. Kevin Gets

    Competition among the sexes is good, keeps you honest and motivates you to improve yourself. You want the "otherside" to know you're there.

    December 29, 2009 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
  98. Ba Thai

    Thanks, CNN. I enjoyed this article, for three reasons: First, it's about women who dare to take on the responsibility and live their dream. Second, it's about the British forces as part of the international coalition taking part in the war against terrorism and religious fanatics - too often American media reporting the war as if this is an American war, which is not. And third, I like behind-the-scene stories - how service men and women carry on their jobs, among other humain-interest aspects of war operations. Thanks again, CNN.

    December 29, 2009 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
  99. Michael



    December 29, 2009 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  100. Jacqueline

    Such an inspiring story. Love the picture. Go get em!

    December 29, 2009 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • salerno


      March 2, 2011 at 12:57 am | Report abuse |