Flying Above the Glass Ceiling
CAP’s Roster of Female Commanders Continues to Expand
By Sheila Pursglove
Women are flying high in Civil Air Patrol. Eight new female wing commanders, along with a region commander, account for nearly 16 percent of CAP’s commanders.
Col. Arlinda Bailey, first female commander of the Tennessee Wing, didn’t initially appreciate the significance of that accomplishment. “I felt it was business as usual, until it dawned on me I have the opportunity to make a positive impact on other females who might want to be leaders, but may feel as I did when I first joined,” she said.
“I especially think I can have a positive influence on female cadets and show them they have these same — and perhaps better — opportunities than I.”
Bailey, who joined CAP in 1998 when her son was a cadet, said overseeing volunteers is a tremendous honor and a huge responsibility. “We try to complete our missions and balance the amount of work in a way not to make it hard on the member,” she said.
In addition to serving as compliance officer, Bailey handles daily emails and phone calls, attends meetings and conferences, conducts conference calls, visits units, presents awards and builds relationships with state agencies, legislators and other officials.
“Mainly, my role involves seeing the ‘big picture’ of CAP and the Tennessee Wing,” she said.
Col. Rose Hunt of the Wisconsin Wing, also the first female commander for her wing, said leadership skills are not gender-specific. “The true challenge is earning the respect of your membership,” she said. “You must be willing to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.
“The duties of a wing commander are vast. You’re accountable for upholding the corporate image, ensuring the safety of your members, responsible for millions of dollars of corporate assets and growing Civil Air Patrol as an organization.”
After joining the Eau Claire Composite Squadron in 1997 when her son was a cadet, Hunt has held increasingly demanding roles, most recently as the wing’s vice commander.
“Everyone brings a diverse skill set,” she said. “I learned early in my business career the importance of customer service, mentoring and a positive attitude. Developing and maintaining a culture of excellence is the primary focus in Wisconsin Wing. Members are drawn to a winning organization that values their contributions.
“I’ve always found success in treating people with respect and appreciation. It’s rewarding to watch members develop their leadership skills and improve the quality of our programs,” Hunt said.
The Nevada Wing’s commander, Col. Carol Lee Lynn, found any question of gender quickly ceased.
“It’s important to respect others for their experience and not go in with a chip on your shoulder. There are always things you can learn and let people teach you and things will go well,” Lynn said. “Being a leader is rewarding but hard work — it cannot be done part-time, and the commitment is not for everyone.”
Lynn started as an aerospace education officer in a senior squadron and eventually became wing director of AE. She subsequently became commander of a composite squadron. “I’d never been a cadet, and it was a steep learning curve,” she said.
After serving as wing chief of staff and then vice commander, she was elevated to wing commander in 2016. Wing activities during her tenure have included searches for lost aircraft and missing individuals, counterdrug reconnaissance, disaster assessment photography and lake patrols on lakes Mead and Tahoe.
“I enjoy the service aspect of CAP because it permeates every mission,” Lynn said. “We have the opportunity to impact people’s lives directly and indirectly while serving our communities and country. The relationships you build become stronger and in some cases become ‘family.’”
Iowa Wing Commander Col. Anita Elliott, who followed her daughter into CAP, said females bring a different dynamic to leadership. “Women tend to nurture more than men, and at times that can be what gets the job done,” she said, adding that being a woman was not an issue for her as a wing official.
“Most of the active members in Iowa were my mentors, or I mentored them. Having the respect of the membership has made it easy,” she said.
Elliott’s duties include keeping communication flowing, visiting squadrons, overseeing activities and making contact and building relationships with community and government agencies. “My staff does a fantastic job,” she said. “I oversee my staff and they oversee the volunteers in their area of responsibility.”
Her goal is to acquire state funding and to continue to build the wing’s relationship with Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the National Guard, the state of Iowa, police, sheriffs and county emergency management agencies.
Kansas Wing Commander Col. Linette Lahan, who joined CAP in 2005, said leadership takes a strong person. “Gender doesn’t matter,” she said. “Leadership overall has unique issues that need to be worked, solved or coordinated. The dynamics of leading volunteers is a unique challenge because volunteers can choose to leave.
“Leaders need to find ways to encourage volunteers to do the ‘have to do’ while meeting the ‘want to do’ that brought them into CAP.”
First volunteering as a leader, then employed by the Army Civilian Corps, Lahan has worked with volunteer leaders in the Army Family Readiness Program. “Whether it’s 20 volunteers through the Army or 400-plus volunteers through Civil Air Patrol, it’s about getting them to work together as a team,” she said.
The Kansas Wing, heavily involved in a partnership with the American Red Cross for 39 years, performs missions transporting blood product and has participated in aerial photography of flooding as well as disaster relief from tornadoes.
Lahan prefers working toward a goal that supports each of CAP’s three core missions – emergency services, cadet programs and aerospace education. “Some are more interested in working in one or two areas, but to me, it’s the teamwork and friendships that come out of it,” she said.
Arizona Wing Commander Col. Martha Morris, a professional pilot who flies Airbuses for JetBlue Airways, attributes her flying success to CAP. She joined Falcon Composite Squadron 305 in Mesa for the flying and became the squadron’s check pilot. Serving in several positions, for the last four years she was director of operations.
“Steering the wing to stay on course and achieve our goals is my primary focus,” Morris said. “It’s been a steep learning curve to effectively deal with our partners, the local, state and federal agencies we support.
“With command comes great responsibility. I believe in weighing all sides of an issue to make the best decisions not just for Arizona Wing, but for CAP as a whole.”
The Arizona Wing is home to Civil Air Patrol’s National Cell Phone Forensics Team, which saves lives on a weekly basis. In addition, “our aircraft are in constant use, while our wing-wide ground team members are recognized nationally for their expertise and training,” Morris said. “My job is to motivate members to make our activities important to the community and also to have fun.”
Col. Celeste Gamache, Colorado Wing commander, joined CAP as a cadet at 16 and became a senior member at 19. “I enjoy the people who volunteer their precious time to serve CAP, our communities and nation. It’s exciting to be part of a mission,” she said. “I’ve found downed aircraft and spotted lost hikers. It’s a great feeling.”
Twenty years in the U.S. Air Force as a judge advocate general and service as a legal officer in CAP has left Gamache very aware of leadership and personnel issues. “It’s like running any nonprofit corporation,” she said. “I have to deal with budgeting, personnel, our planes and other equipment, and the dreaded paperwork! No day is ever the same.”
Colorado Wing members have found lost hikers and motorists stranded in snowstorms, flown sorties in response to wildfires and floods, performed intercept missions for the Air Force and monitored unmanned aerial vehicles for the U.S. Army.
“You have to be dedicated to the job and work it nearly every day,” Gamache said.
The newest female wing commander, Col. Andrea Van Buren of the Georgia Wing, was sworn in April 8. She previously served as commander of the Peachtree-DeKalb Senior Squadron and as the wing’s chief of staff and vice commander.
The wing commanders all have similar goals, including recruiting and retention, adding new missions in emergency services, finding opportunities in aerospace education and cadet programs, fundraising and building relationships with schools.
Elliott and Lahan serve in the North Central Region, spearheaded since May 2016 by Col. Regena Aye, former commander of the Kansas Wing. “I’m the sixth female region commander, but not the first in Kansas or NCR — both had one before me,” Aye said.
“Being a leader is often challenging — I don’t believe my gender has made it more challenging. I’ve had good mentors and great support from fellow members. I’ve had the good fortune to meet many prominent female CAP leaders — seeing others like you in leadership positions is inspiring and can encourage other women to fulfill their potential,” she said.