In the mobility world, airmen pride themselves on an “always-there” mentality. I recently had the pleasure of flying Elinor Otto, a remarkable 98-years-young, who shares that mentality. In fact, this American icon, one of the original Rosie the Riveters, embodies the concepts of commitment and service, building airplanes nonstop for nearly 70 years.
Ms. Otto was one of the patriotic women who joined the industrial workforce in unprecedented numbers during World War II to support the war efforts. They flocked in particular to the aviation industry, and played a key role in our nation’s history.
During her distinguished career, Ms. Otto worked on an assortment of aircraft to include Air Mobility Command’s C-17. She personally put a rivet or bolt in almost every one of the C-17s in our mobility fleet, and in several of the C-17s of our closest allies. While she arduously worked to ensure those aircraft took flight, she never received an opportunity to fly aboard one. We decided to fix that. With a team of Reserve partners, I had the privilege of flying her aboard a C-17 this week.
I’ve had the chance to watch firsthand the impact that Ms. Otto’s airplanes have had on the global stage. They have delivered our nation’s service members and supplies to every corner of the world.
Leading up to her flight, I also witnessed the personal connection Ms. Otto had with students and fellow airmen we invited to help recognize this American hero.
Her story represents valued traits that translate into qualities we seek in our airmen. She exemplifies excellence, service, integrity, a strong work ethic, resilience and a can-do attitude.
Reliability and work ethic are the fabric of our hard-working mobility force’s DNA. The “You can do it!” mentality the Rosies were known for continues to serve as an inspiration to today’s airmen.
Ms. Otto’s dedication to her country serves as an ideal opportunity for the Air Force to inspire others while supporting Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David Goldfein’s charge to inspire the next generation of airmen.
Connecting with youth and inspiring the next generation of airmen goes beyond traditional classroom settings. Air Mobility Command consistently works to improve its readiness and ability to respond to humanitarian relief operations and, when required, to fight our way into more contested environments anywhere on the globe. It is also important, when time allows, to use flights to create an interactive learning experience for Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, ROTC and Civil Air Patrol cadets, as well as youth affiliated with congressionally sanctioned and Department of Defense programs, helping students see where they could contribute or create breakthrough moments of their own, as Ms. Otto has done for decades.
In the Air Force, we recruit individuals and retain families. Key to both efforts is education. The nation’s top talent won’t join the Air Force if we don’t work hard to show them what the Air Force offers. Similarly, airmen won’t continue to serve if education and schools in areas they serve and live aren’t making the grade for their children. As the Air Force continues to develop and modernize its forces and equipment, the need for science, technology, engineering and mathematics professionals within the service grows. Recognizing this fact, in 2018, Air Mobility Command will evaluate opportunities to leverage local training missions and transform them into flying classrooms for area kids. This will help complement local education and serve as an interactive entry point to the Air Force. If we help children find their purpose and passion, perhaps it will lead to service in the Air Force. If nothing else, it will lead to more informed citizens.
Leveraging the expertise of an original Rosie the Riveter to create a flying classroom for area school kids was a tremendous way to foster learning, introduce a lesson of service, and enhance understanding of the Air Force’s rich heritage. In addition to personally experiencing a flying mission, students also got the chance to see aeromedical training up close.
More importantly, the day offered an opportunity for the kids to discover their potential and recognize the contribution of all of the Rosies to national defense by honoring Ms. Otto.
We need interactive approaches to get today’s youth interested in service to our nation. We need to be actively involved and partner with local educators by getting Airmen into the classrooms and building opportunities for learning at military installations.
Gen. Carlton D. Everhart II is the commander of Air Mobility Command, which is headquartered at Scott Air Force Base.