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ANG Woman Wing Commander Doesn't See Herself as Pioneer

By Master Sgt. Bob Haskell
Special to American Forces Press Service

ANDREWS AFB, Md., March 18, 2004 – Air National Guard Col. Linda McTague has gotten pretty good at regarding herself through the eyes of others. She does not see a pioneer for women's achievements when she looks in a mirror. But she realizes that other people consider her to be a role model a pioneer for what women can accomplish in this country's military service. And she strives very hard to live up to those expectations, as well as to her own.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Air National Guard Col. Linda McTague is first woman to command an Air National Guard wing, and she is believed to be the first woman to have an Air Force component fighter squadron under her command. Photo courtesy of District of Columbia Air National Guard

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

McTague is in a good position to take that kind of stock in herself, because she is the first woman to command an Air National Guard wing, and because she is believed to be the first of her gender to have an Air Force fighter squadron under her command, according to records at the Air Force history office.

Specifically, the woman from Battle Creek, Mich., assumed command of the District of Columbia Air National Guard's highly-decorated 113th Wing on Dec. 1. She therefore is eligible to become a brigadier general.

That diverse wing of some 1,050 men and women includes the 121st Fighter Squadron of F-16s that is on alert during the war against terrorism and the 201st Airlift Squadron that flies members of Congress and other dignitaries around the world in a fleet of C-38 and C-40 operational support airplanes.

Here's the catch. McTague is not a fighter pilot. She cut her Air Guard aviation teeth as an operational support airlift pilot beginning in 1988 before climbing the ladder to serve as the 201st's commander for nearly four years beginning in November 1997. She was the first woman to command an Air Guard flying squadron, said Charles Gross, the Air Guard's chief historian.

That, she claimed during a recent interview, is an indication of how much the military culture has changed during the past decade to make it possible for women and members of minorities to reach the level she has attained.

But a pioneer? "I don't personally see myself that way, because I've never felt the pressure to be a pioneer. But if I'm realistic about the comments that I hear from other people, I'd have to say that they do see me that way." McTague said.

"I know this is something unique and something that, perhaps, a lot of people are excited about and interested in, because it may open paths and opportunities for them that they hadn't thought about before, or that they can now do realistically," she added. "It's not just a dream for them now."

McTague said many other women did plenty of pioneering before her, including the civilian Women Air Force Service Pilots, who ferried military airplanes overseas and towed targets and served as instructor pilots during World War II.

She does, however, realize she's in the right place at the right time to benefit from a change in attitudes toward women and toward people who are not fighter pilots that was helped, she said, by the change in the law in 1992 that made it possible for women to fly combat aircraft.

"Ten years ago, the culture was such that if you weren't a fighter pilot, you were not going to be the wing commander," McTague said. "Now, we've had women in traditional male fields for awhile, and our senior leadership has pushed the idea that we need to be a diverse organization, to tap the resources that we have available to us, and to not exclude anybody because of race or gender."

And she does not feel out of place in the commander's office because she is not one of the fighter pilots, even though "we exist as a wing to support the fighter mission," she acknowledged. "I've been given the opportunity to do a lot of jobs in this wing over the years, so I think I was pretty well prepared when I was asked to be the commander.

"I don't think I have to fly the airplane to understand the F-16 mission," said McTague, who has earned her wings as a command pilot while logging more than 5,250 hours in eight kinds of aircraft during her 23 years in uniform. That includes four years as an instructor pilot and Wings of Blue pilot for the Air Force Academy in Colorado.

"I've always relied on the experts, and we have a strong vice commander in Col. Jeff Johnson who does fly the F-16 and knows the missions," McTague added.

Chief Master Sgt. George McCarley predicted that McTague would make an excellent wing commander "because she's level-headed and she listens to her people." McCarley is the 201st squadron's superintendent for aircraft generation, and he worked for McTague from March 1991 until October 1994, when she was the squadron's assistant chief and then chief of maintenance.

"She was an excellent pilot, and she didn't know anything about aircraft maintenance when she came to us," McCarley recalled. "But she listened to us, and she always referred to the book to help her make good decisions."

She also learned to respect and to rely on the enlisted force during her tenure in maintenance, said McTague, who has since served as commander of the 113th Logistics Squadron and Logistics Group. The D.C. Air Guard's enlisted men and women gave her their highest tribute in 2001 by inducting her as an honorary chief master sergeant.

She spent the past two years as the Air Guard advisor to the director of operations at Headquarters Air Education and Training Command at Randolph, Air Force Base, Texas, before returning to the 113th Wing as the commander.

McTague holds a liberal arts degree and a master's degree in adult education from Florida International University, where she received a scholarship to play softball and volleyball. She played volleyball on the Air Force team and at the international level when she was a young officer.

Now she considers herself the Air Guard wing's advocate as well as its coach, whose most important job is preparedness and "to maximize everybody's potential out here" while maintaining its reputation as a team "that will not settle for being less than the best."

Her plan is simple. "I want to be a good listener. I have to be a good student of dealing with people," said McTague. "I want to be polite and respectful. I want to try to find the niche where everybody will fit and contribute."

"I want to give people the opportunity to fulfill their personal goals," said the new wing commander, who has taken advantage of every chance she has been given to fulfill her own.

(Army Master Sgt. Bob Haskell is assigned to the National Guard Bureau.)

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