March 19, 2004 (by Army Master Sgt. Bob Haskell) - Air National Guard Col. Linda McTague does not see herself as a pioneer for women's achievements, but she realizes that other people consider her to be a role model for what women can accomplish in this country's military service. And she said she strives very hard to live up to those expectations, as well as to her own.
Colonel McTague is in a good position to take that kind of stock in herself. She is the first woman to command an ANG
wing, and is believed to be the first woman to command an Air Force fighter squadron, according to Air Force history office records.
Specifically, the woman from Battle Creek, Mich., assumed command of the District of Columbia ANG's highly decorated 113th Wing on Dec. 1.
That diverse wing with about 1,050 people includes the 121st Fighter Squadron of F-16 Fighting Falcons that is on alert for the war against terrorism. The wing also has 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 is the catch: Colonel McTague is not a fighter pilot. She began as an operational support airlift pilot in 1988 before serving as the 201st's commander for nearly four years beginning in November 1997. She was the first woman to command an ANG flying squadron, said Charles Gross, the Air National Guard's chief historian.
That, she said, is an indication of how much military culture has changed during the past decade, making it possible for women and 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." Colonel 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 said. "It's not just a dream for them now."
Colonel McTague said many women did plenty of pioneering before her, including the civilian Women Airforce Service Pilots, who ferried military airplanes overseas plus towed targets and served as instructor pilots during World War II.
She did say she is 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," the colonel said. "Now, we've had women in traditional male fields for awhile, and our senior (leaders have) 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 said. "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 Colonel McTague, who has earned her wings as a command pilot while logging more than 5,250 hours in eight kinds of aircraft in 23 years. 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,? she said.
Colonel McTague also learned to respect and to rely on the enlisted force during her tenure in maintenance, she said. The D.C. ANG's enlisted Airmen gave her their highest tribute in 2001 by inducting her as an honorary chief master sergeant.
Now she said she considers herself the ANG wing's advocate and coach, whose most important job is preparedness and "to maximize everybody's potential out here." This must be done while maintaining the wing?s 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," Colonel McTague said. "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," she said.