US air base in Japan marks International Women’s Day with student aviation event
Stars and Stripes March 9, 2023
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Female pilots and aircrew marked International Women’s Day on this base in western Tokyo by greeting students for their second annual Fly Girls event.
“I’m trying not to get teary eyed,” Tech. Sgt. Seara Sapp Becker, a C-130J Super Hercules loadmaster, told Stars and Stripes at the event Wednesday. “It was amazing to see the excitement they had and to know that I might have played just a small part in their lives today is just so amazing.”
More than 100 students — both girls and boys — from Yokota’s middle and high school attended the event. That morning, they rode on a UH-1 Iroquois, or Huey, helicopter; a C-12J Huron, a twin turboprop passenger plane; or a Super Hercules airlifter.
Later, at static displays and information tables inside a hangar for the 459th Airlift Squadron, they learned directly from the women who pilot and maintain the aircraft.
“We have had students come up to us and tell us how excited they are to pursue a career in aviation,” 1st Lt. Elizabeth Gilliam, a Super Hercules copilot, said at the event.
Yokota High senior Sophia Teodoro said she wasn’t sure what role she wanted to serve in the military until she talked to members of the 18th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron from Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, at the event.
“I’m a Filipino and it is kind of the norm for us to become nurses (in the military), so I kind of wanted to stay away from that,” she said. “But after hearing from the aeromedical evacuation crew and their nursing jobs, the job is more than just taking care of patients. It is also transporting them. I learned that there are nurses that fly and that they help transport a patient from one base to another if there isn’t a good hospital for them. I kind of want to do that now.”
Women representing their roles in aviation makes a difference, Becker said; it actually inspired her to pursue a career in military aviation.
“As a little girl I never thought I would join the military,” she said. “And then I saw my aunt and she was in the military and worked on the C-130E. She showed me the way and that I could do this.”
This is the second year the 36th Airlift Wing has hosted the event and the first year the Japan Air Self-Defense Force has been involved.
“Currently we don't have many female pilots, but now younger generation pilots are increasing,” said 1st Lt. Avane Takatori, a C-130H pilot with Japan’s 401st Tactical Airlift Squadron at Komaki Air Base. “A few years ago, female pilots were not allowed to be fighter jet pilots. But now (Japan) removed that restriction, so we think that the number of female pilots will be increasing.”
The event shows young girls and boys how the U.S. and the world has progressed for women in the aviation career field, Gilliam said.
“It’s very important for young females to see that these leaps and bounds have already been made and these hurdles that used to stand in front of us have been hurdled already by women like the WASPs, the women and service pilots, and that it's very possible and encouraged for young women to pursue such a career,” Gilliam said.
“It's very important for the young men to see this as well, to see that women and men work alongside each other and that we are the same in the eyes of the Air Force,” she added.