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Airman Elizabeth Ann Southerland, left, and Capt. Jean White helped the Defense Commissary Agency at Misawa Air Base kick off the store’s sales promotion “A Salute to Women in the Military” on Monday. Southerland and White are the youngest and oldest women, respectively, on active duty at Misawa, according to base officials.

Airman Elizabeth Ann Southerland, left, and Capt. Jean White helped the Defense Commissary Agency at Misawa Air Base kick off the store’s sales promotion “A Salute to Women in the Military” on Monday. Southerland and White are the youngest and oldest women, respectively, on active duty at Misawa, according to base officials. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Capt. Jean White never thought about her age until she was asked to slice cake.

Defense Commissary Agency officials at Misawa asked White and Airman Elizabeth Ann Southerland to preside over a cake-cutting ceremony at the store Monday that’s part of a DECA-wide sales promotion themed “A Salute to Women in the Military.”

White, 52, is an obstetrics nurse at the base hospital. Southerland, a unit deployment manager with 35th Civil Engineer Squadron, turned 19 last month. Base officials say the two are the oldest and youngest women, respectively, on active duty at Misawa.

“I just can’t believe I’m here because of my age,” White said after divvying up the large sheet cake for customers Monday morning.

White, from Brooklyn, N.Y., joined the Navy right out of high school “at about 19,” she said. A corpsman, White liked her job but left active duty when she had children, keeping her military ties through the Navy Reserve. In 1992, after earning a nursing degree, she signed on with the Air Force.

“I was working in a civilian hospital but I always felt like something was missing, the camaraderie,” she said. She talked to recruiters from the Navy and Army, too, but the Air Force acted quickest. “I was getting up in age,” she said. “The Navy was dragging their feet.”

Southerland finished basic training three days after Christmas. She graduated from high school at 16 and started college but dropped out after two years. She wanted to get out of Vacaville, Calif., and see the world. Her brother, a senior airman at Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz., inspired her to join the Air Force.

“I’ve actually never felt my age until they called me and said I was the youngest airman on base,” Southerland said.

Jack Younger, Misawa commissary store director, said DECA honors women in the military every year with a special sales promotion, which ends Aug. 10. In the commissary, customers will find displays on women in the military, coupons at the front of the store and discounts on various products. One vendor is donating a certain percentage of sales during the promotion to the Women’s Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, Younger said.

After running 1.5 miles Monday morning, White said she doesn’t let her age hold her back. Her advice to Southerland: “The sky’s the limit now. We just got our first (female) Thunderbird pilot” in the Air Force.

author picture
Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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