Tag Archives: generations

Your momma wears combat boots

Col. Michael J. Underkofler
By Col. Michael Underkofler
514th Air Mobility Wing

On the small-town playground of my childhood, the comeback quip of last resort after being physically or verbally pummeled was “Well, your momma wears combat boots.”

It was the juvenile equivalent of today’s profane four-letter bombs, but with bigger consequences. If used, the surrounding crowd within earshot would in unison let out an “Aahhh, you’re going to get it.”

Not many dared to use this double-whammy epithet. First, after a rough and tumble fight, most didn’t have the chutzpa to disparage someone’s mother. Even the schoolyard bully recognized that this was not polite. By doing so, the user might get pummeled further and would probably get a mouth washing with a bar a soap when he got home.

Second, to ascribe warrior status to a real woman was something really unheard of too. After all, in most boys’ eyes in my hometown, mothers and grandmothers were doting, white pearl- and sensible shoe-wearing pecan pie bakers, certainly not warriors.

The only combat boot-wearing women my prepubescent friends knew, and possibly admired, were Hippolyta and Wonder Woman. The former was the warrior queen in Greek mythology whose magical belt was recovered by the uberman and demigod Hercules during his 12 labors.

The latter woman warrior was equally as proficient in hand-to-hand combat and was known to fight for just causes. For example, she joined other comic book heroes in the Justice League to help defeat the Axis powers.

Both Hippolyta and Wonder Woman were Amazons. Both were fictional. Therefore both were considered OK by my friends.

I always found my buddies’ youthful prohibition against real women wearing combat boots in stark contrast to my hometown’s and my families’ real history.

Ignorance is powerful, but education is even more so.

Women in my hometown were more than just pecan pie bakers. Since colonial times, they were leaders and advocates confronting wars and difficult issues head on. In 1774, a group of 51 women vowed to give up tea and boycott other British products in response to new taxes levied by Parliament.

At their tea party, these North Carolina women resolved to stand firm in their efforts “until such time that all acts which tend to enslave our native country shall be repealed.” They bravely signed a well-reasoned and well-structured document for the crown to see, choosing not to hide behind Indian costumes as others had done at the more famous Boston Tea Party.

In doing so, these women created the first instance of organized political action by women in the colonies. They didn’t stop there.

While not serving directly on the battlefield, many played key roles supporting the war for independence. The same was true throughout the colonies. But in some places, though, women were on the frontlines at gun emplacements, reloading canons and muskets, or tending the wounded.

Bravery didn’t die with those women. It continued generation after generation in both political activism and in combat. In reality, they were wearing combat boots even if not formally acknowledged.

It’s possible that some of the women in my family were involved in early American conflicts, but sadly that history is lost. I do, however, know and relish the service of recent family members.

A great aunt wore combat boots in World War II Europe. She earned a Bronze Star Medal long before women were officially allowed to serve in combat. Later, she transferred from the Army to the Air Force when the new air-centric service was founded. At her retirement, she was chief of her medical corps and the senior-ranking woman in the Air Force.

My mother wore her combat boots in the Cold War, working hard to provide top-flight medical care to injured servicemen and women, sometimes in really austere conditions.

Unfortunately, she served when women had to be discharged when they became pregnant. If allowed to serve longer, I’m sure she would have had as equally a distinguished career as my aunt.

Finally, my wife wore her combat boots in the air above and on the ground in the jungles of Central America, the deserts of Southwest Asia and in other places that can’t be mentioned.

She ended her career as an instructor at Air University helping the next generation of leaders understand the history of airpower and ponder its future applications.

Three combat boot-wearing women from three generations worked hard to defend and strengthen our country. As we like to say in our family, not all women wear pearls and sensible shoes to work, some wear dog tags and combat boots.

Just as I tell the stories of the women warriors in my family, I encourage you to tell the stories about yours, especially to your kids and grandkids. They will cherish them.

Every day women in our country put on combat boots and serve in the air, on the ground and on the seas. While we may define and redefine what it means to serve in combat, make no mistake, women have always served in harm’s way. The war today clearly demonstrates the vulnerability of all of us and the evolving nature of warfare. We couldn’t fight it as well as we have without the contributions of our women warriors.

Other women may not have formally served in the military, but nonetheless were not afraid to stand up to fight against injustice. Without their service, we would not have gained our independence, defeated tyranny in many wars, built the weapons of war and protected our homeland. Their stories are worth retelling too so future generations can become just as resolute to support just causes.

Throughout the year, tell the stories of women warriors and political activists, but tell them even more loudly during Women’s History Month. Let’s be proud to say on the playground of adulthood, “well, my momma wore combat boots”.

I know I am.

Veterans Day: reflecting on service, Air Force Memorial

By Tech. Sgt. Karen J. Tomasik
Air Force Public Affairs Agency

Veterans Day is near and dear to my family since many family members have served this nation across several service branches. I’ve attended many ceremonies and services at various locations over the years, but there is a place I have yet to visit on a military holiday – the Air Force Memorial.

Why would I want to spend Veterans Day visiting the Air Force Memorial specifically? It’s because my daughters are finally old enough to notice the details of the memorial and what they mean. It’s a visual representation of me and my husband’s Air Force service, and I’d really like to see the wonder in their eyes at seeing the memorial for the first time.

What I remember most about the first time I ever saw the memorial, was the way the three soaring, shiny stainless steel spires seem to rise up out of the trees when driving up to the memorial site. It was their graceful curvature that took me back to my childhood when I saw the Thunderbirds perform what’s known as the bomb burst maneuver.

I also remember a lot of the news that came out about the design and building of the memorial – some people liked the design while others were very vocal in saying how much they didn’t like it. What mattered to me was my service branch finally having a memorial for our Airmen that captures our mission – much like the Navy’s Lone Sailor Statue signifies the service of Sailors and the Marine Corps War Memorial embodies the courage and sacrifice of Marines.

The memorial is not just for the men and women serving in today’s Air Force but also those who served in early organizations like the Aeronautical Division and Aviation Section of the U.S. Signal Corps; the Army Air Service; the U.S. Army Air Corps; and the U.S. Army Air Forces among others. This is for all of America’s Airmen.

The memorial also features a bronze honor guard statue, which I also identify with – not as a ceremonial guardsman in the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard – but as a young Airman allowed to participate as a member of the base honor guard at McChord Air Force Base, Wash.

The opportunities I had to render final honors for many who served in the Army Air Corps and some who served much more recently really opened my eyes to how much we owe to people who choose to join the ranks of those going off into the wild blue yonder for their country.

As a kid growing up in rural Ohio, I loved watching the crop dusters flying over local farms and enjoyed each chance I got to fly to Texas to visit my grandparents for summer vacations. I’m sure all that, my dad’s service in the Ohio Air National Guard, and my being born in San Antonio, home of the Gateway to the Air Force, played a part in my decision to join.

The Air Force memorial is more than just steel spires, bronze statues, granite walls or the glass contemplation wall honoring fallen Airmen. It shows the American people the spirit of its Airmen through the decades, represents our core values and recognizes the three components that make up our Total Force.

It is a legacy of American Airmen and airpower that I hope future generations, including that of my daughters, can look upon with awe as they remember the great feats we have accomplished and the leaders we have developed.

Photo: The Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Va., is the site of a dedication ceremony Oct. 14, 2006, at 9 a.m. Organizers braved the cooler afternoon temperatures Oct. 12 making final preperations for the dedication ceremony. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Larry A. Simmons)