Tag Archives: Aviation Officer Candidate School

I Am Everywoman (Walking that Fine Line of Balance . . .)

7 May

I Am Everywoman (Walking that Fine Line of Balance . . .)

I have often said that if I could lose a hundred pounds in one year (2012), then anybody can. I mean that. Anyone willing to adhere to the Weight Watchers system for a year can do what I did. There may be other systems that would produce the same result. I only know about Weight Watchers.

I often present myself as Everywoman. There is a valid reason to do that. I am not movie star beautiful and I am not an heiress and was not a straight A student, although I was pretty close.

On the other hand, there is a lack of balance that can adhere to presenting oneself as Everywoman one too many times.

For example, I went through Aviation Officer Candidate School (AOCS) in Pensacola, Florida in 1981-82. I don’t think that AOCS is for everyone, nor do I think everyone can complete it. There comes a point where I think I am allowed to acknowledge that, God helping me, I accomplished something that few women of my time did. By the way, many men in my day actually enrolled in that program and failed to complete it. It is okay for me to rejoice in something exceptional that happened in my life (it’s called an accomplishment!).

I say that because I have heard women say that they wish they had known me earlier so they could have gone through AOCS with me and completed a naval career. When they make that theoretical statement, I usually think that the life they are living is probably the one God actually wanted them to live. Theirs, not mine.

Theoretical is not actual. I actually went through AOCS and did the following:
1) Completed an approximate 3 mile beach run at 7-8 minute miles while in ranks (many of the men and all of the other women fell out of ranks. Several of them were vomiting from exertion).
2) Was rolled inverted underwater in a simulated helicopter and a simulated airplane while blindfolded. Extricated myself from my seat and seatbelt and found my way to the surface from both.
3) Parasailed behind a truck.
4) Was picked up by a helicopter dropping a line to me out in Pensacola Bay.
5) Drownproofed for half an hour in the base pool after treading water for ten minutes after treading water with my hands held still and out of the water for one minute.
6) Jumped from a high dive and swam the length of an Olympic-sized pool without coming up for breath.
7) Many other rugged requirements of which this is just a sampling.

In addition to the physical requirements, we had a heavy schedule of academics which actually challenged me even more than the physical program did.

Needless to say, graduation day was a day of rejoicing for me.

So, when someone makes a theoretical statement that she wishes she could have done what I did and had my career, I have to bite my tongue to not say that neither of us knows whether she would have graduated from the program . . . Many people did not.

We are all unique. My life has not necessarily been more challenging than someone else’s, even having gone through AOCS. Even with having had breast cancer at age 49. Even with having had a child with autism.

However, I will not negate my challenges and say they were not challenges. I will not say that anyone could handle them. But for the grace of God, even I could not! But His grace was applied to my life in these challenges because He willed them to be part of my life. That does not mean anyone else could have handled them in the same way or as well as I did. I am me. I have lived this life. Anyone comparing herself to me is just being theoretical.

It has become important to me to spell that out because a longtime mentoree who probably has borderline personality disorder seems to have become enraged at me that my life has turned out fairly successfully while hers has shipwrecked. From all I can see in her communication, she seems to wish she had had my life for herself without having had to put into it the effort I have put into my life.

In other words, she wants to have the same things I have worked for, but without the work.

Life doesn’t work that way, folks.

Yes, God has blessed me abundantly. But I have partnered with Him. I didn’t just lie down under an apple tree and wait for Him to drop blessings on my sleeping head.

God is sovereign; man has choice. Those two work together somehow.


Women in Combat

25 Jan

Picture 017Women in Combat

Ya’ll knew I was gonna do this. After 27 years of service as a naval officer, and as a self-respecting blogger (most days), I have to do this.

I love the anecdotal story at the end of the above article in which the woman being interviewed spoke of finding a hidden insurgent and calling her male colleagues in to help her with the capture.

Thing is, my stories are anecdotal, too. When I came in, I went through Aviation Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Florida for my career path, although I was not going to be a pilot or a navigator. And there were three separate standards for women in that strenuous program: 1) we did not have to take the boxing block (our entertainment before we were allowed liberty was the “smokers” or boxing matches that our battalion would conduct against our sister battalion) 2) we did not have to scale the low wall on the obstacle course but just had to run up and tap it 3) we did not have to scale the high wall on the obstacle course but just had to run up and tap it. The first wall required a pull up with the upper arm muscles–it may have been eight feet tall. The second one required a pull up with a rope–it may have been twelve feet tall.

Various studies over the years confirmed the wisdom of the obstacle course exemptions. They showed how young women could ruin their shoulders for life by utilizing muscles in ways they were not equipped (or trained) to exercise them. In other words, we aren’t built the same as men and, if we are going to take on some of the same tasks, we need a long curve of prior physical training in that task before we take it on. Some women will never make it in those tasks. I am probably one of those women.

That said, I do applaud the opening of the combat door to women as inevitable. Some women are strong enough physically to handle all the same aspects of combat that men handle. Some women will handle those better than some men. C’est la vie.

I look back and smile as I remember some of the things I did in AOCS that I have never done before nor since. Kind of seems like someone else’s life in many ways. But I smile because I did them and no one can ever take that part away from me.

I parasailed behind a truck (because there were sharks in the bay that day so we could not do it behind a boat). I was lifted from the bay another day onto a helicopter (“remember, guys, let the lead hit the water before you touch it or you will be electrocuted with the charge the helicopter has built up!”). I went in the Helodunker which was a simulated helicopter cockpit, submerged upside down underwater in a pool. We were plunged into the pool, blindfolded and belted into our seats, rolled inverted, and then had to escape the cockpit after counting to ten once the machine stopped moving.

I learned to run like the wind, although I am the anti-athlete, so that the DI’s would not yell at me. I would say I tried to escape being singled out for DI attention, but as one of only four women in my class (two of the others dropped out as we went along; the third one was held back into the next class), it was impossible to avoid being singled out for extra PT. The best I could do was not be yelled at every moment of the entire training day!!!

The way I have always described it was that the DI’s seemed to really bend over backwards to get the women to drop the first six or seven weeks of the fourteen week program. But after that, I sensed a change. Although they still yelled at me, they did it with a sense of humor behind it. We never dared look DI’s in the eyes (it was against the rules), but if I had dared, I think I would have seen a glimmer of amusement there as they trashtalked me. By the end of the course, they would openly say humorous things when they were gigging us and not punish us for laughing a little bit under our breath.

I remember our beach run, near the end of our course, with Gunnery Sergeant Clark, USMC, leading the charge. He was about six foot six and had a huge stride. He ran that beach at around a seven minute mile for about three miles. And I, who have struggled in the best years of my youth since then to ever make an eight minute mile, kept up somehow. My male classmates were dropping out, crying and throwing up, and . . . I just didn’t want the hassle of him yelling at me so I gutted it out.

At the end, Gunney Clark turned to me in astonishment. “Gardner, you’re still with me?????”

“Yes, Gunnery Sergeant Clark, United States Marine Corps, I am still with you,” I gasped.

I swear, with my peripheral vision, I saw something that was almost a smile cross his face.

(Photographs are of:  1) Gunnery Sergeant Clark, of the famed beach run, with me 2) Gunnery Sergeant Walker, my class’s DI, doing the first salute ceremony with me after my commissioning)

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