Women's History Month: Weather officer reflects on service

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Ryan Labadens
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs
Women's History Month honors both past and present accomplishments of women across the globe. Today throughout the Department of Defense, men and women serve side by side in various roles, some of which had only been available to men in the past.

For Lt. Col. Kaitlyn Woods, an aerial reconnaissance weather officer with the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron "Hurricane Hunters" here, her interest in serving in the military started when she was a young girl in junior high and high school, where she first explored the options of attending one of the various military academies. Even though her family had no military background, they still guided and motivated her to pursue those options. Upon graduating from high school, she received a full Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship through the Air Force. She instead decided to attend college at the University of Miami, Florida, where she graduated and was commissioned in 1999.

Woods said that she recognizes and appreciates the struggles her grandmothers' generation went through for women's rights, and that she feels very grateful to serve in a time where she is treated both professionally and equally in the military. For her, gender was never an issue in her Air Force career from the time she first joined until now.

"To be completely honest, I have never felt anything but equal to everybody else, and I think that's one of the many things the military has done a really good job at. The military has always led the way when it came to social issues, whether it was race or males and females, and I've always felt good about it," said Woods.

This feeling carries over to her views on the role models she has had in her life, citing both men and women who had an influence on how she arrived where she is today.

"I don't think of it like that, to be totally frank. It's just people that I would like to emulate," said Woods about her role models. "It doesn't really have anything to do with whether they're male or female."

Woods did note one Air Force officer, Col. Mary Lockhart (retired), a reservist who mentored her during her early career while on active duty.

"Over the years she did a really good job of influencing my way of thinking, the way I interact with people, and my basic management principles," said Woods. "She definitely gave me the confidence to realize that it never hurts to ask (for assistance or information)."

Woods' last assignment during her six years on active duty was at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, where she served as an instructor at the base's weather school, not too far from where the Hurricane Hunters' building was located. After learning about the ARWO position, she decided that she wanted to take part in the Hurricane Hunter mission and interview for the job. She said she felt fortunate that her career path led her to serve as an ARWO with Hurricane Hunters.

"I am lucky enough to be in a squadron where we have such an incredibly unique mission.... to have an opportunity to do something this amazing," said Woods about the 53rd WRS and their mission to fly into storms to gather weather data.

While she noted that her experience in the military has been positive regarding interactions between men and women, she recognizes that it is not like that in other places, and other militaries, across the globe. One experience that made her more aware of this occurred while she was taking part in her first Caribbean Hurricane Awareness Tour, a joint effort between the National Hurricane Center and the Hurricane Hunters that promotes hurricane awareness and preparedness throughout the different nations in the Caribbean.

"There was this group of school girls that came in, and I was in uniform and speaking to the crowd, and one of the little girls came up to me afterward and said, 'They really do let you do this?'" said Woods. "That changed my entire perspective! I can tell you that I had never felt more proud to be an American in my life, because I realized at that point how lucky I was that I feel no gender difference, and how there is still a huge gender difference throughout the world."

For women still facing those differences, Woods offered the following encouragement.

"I believe that anyone with a good work ethic will eventually succeed in life. It's not about being the smartest, it's not about being the most popular, it's about whether you have a good work ethic. If you do, everything eventually will even out," said Wood.

Woods said she feels fortunate to serve in the military and be in a career field she loves. She recalled her first storm mission as an ARWO with the Hurricane Hunters and the awe she felt at that time, which has stayed with her to this day.

"I remember my first flight through a hurricane - it was a Category 3, and it had the stadium effect," said Woods, referring to how the clouds circling the eye of a hurricane slope upwards like the inside of a stadium. "It was absolutely beautiful in the eye. I remember, when I was in that storm, thinking that if there was ever a day where I did not appreciate the beauty of this, then I needed to quit."

So far, that day has yet to come.