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Molly B., Navy Pilot MAG
Molly is a 28-year-old lieutenant in the Navy. She is one of three females who fly F-14 Tomcat fighter jets. She is stationed in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
What got you interested in the armed forces?
First, it was my older sister who was in an Army ROTC program, then it was motivating commercials and books I read on the neat things people in the military do.
How difficult was it to balance college, Navy and playing volleyball?
I went to the U.S. Naval Academy and we did have a lot to balance. I was more productive studying and getting things done in volleyball season. There was very little time to goof off, so that made it easy. Being on the volleyball team was a blessing; because it was such a stressful environment, my teammates and I were always sharing stories of how bad we had it. It was a great stress-reliever.
Describe what you do in a typical day.
I've been in training for four and a half years; my job has been to study the aircraft I've flown and the training hops which expound on book knowledge. But soon I am taking a F-14 Tomcat out to a carrier for my carrier qualification. I'll do 10 day landings and six night landings. Once I complete that, grading on my training will end, and I will be assigned to a fleet squadron. That job will be 10 hours every day until cruise deployment. I will have several ground jobs, like looking after the troops who work for me and various other paperwork. I will also fly once a day. Once a squadron goes on cruise there is a routine that develops, but the hours are pretty wacky. We'll probably start getting to the ready room around 10 and work or fly until two in the morning.
How many hours a week do you work?
I work about 35 hours a week now, but it can go up to 80.
What initiation process did you go through to earn your wings?
There is no initiation, unless you want to call landing on a moving ship an initiation. After the nice ceremony of having our wings pinned on by parents, spouses or the Skipper, the families get together for a brunch. There isn't the blood wings initiation I am sure you saw on TV. Ours is a classy event and we wear dress uniforms.
Do you have to live on the base?
Single folks like me don't have the option of living on base. That is not a bad deal; most places in town are nicer than base housing. Married couples and families can live on the base, but some places have a waiting list.
Could you give me a ballpark figure of how much money you make in the armed forces?
As an ensign, you earn roughly $32,000. My income as a lieutenant is about $40,000, plus medical, dental and compensation for housing.
How many women are involved in your type of job?
Currently the F-14 community (pilots and Radar Intercept Officers involved with flying F-14s) has three female pilots and 10 RIOs out of 250 people.
Is it difficult being one of the few women?
Not really. I never try to set myself apart because of being a female, and I firmly believe in carrying one's own weight. I don't think being a female is an excuse or a hindrance for anything in this profession. It is nice being "one of the guys" as long as you also have time to be one of the girls.
Do you find it difficult to date since you are in the armed forces? Do civilians approach you or do you date men in the service?
I tend to hang out with the guys I work with. I haven't met any civilians who can understand our weird schedules or deal with six-month deployments.
Do men respect you equally as the other men?
As long as you pull your own weight, you will be respected. That goes for any profession, any team, any organization.
What is the most important lesson you have learned in the Navy?
What it means to be a leader, not that I have this skill mastered by any means. I learned by being put in charge of both my peers and a junior group of people. Peers are more difficult. Ruling with an iron fist doesn't work very well; for people to follow you, they must trust you. You have to be fair 100% of the time. You need to get to know the people who work for you. You can't ask them to do anything you wouldn't do. And you need to be present, you can't lead without being around.
What is the toughest challenge you have faced?
Physically, it's a toss-up between two-a-day volleyball practices during the summer and Navy SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) School.
Mentally, landing on an aircraft carrier at night.
How often do you get to go home?
I've been fortunate to make it home for every Christmas. This Thanksgiving was the first one I missed, although I did get to spend it with family in North Carolina. I occasionally make an unexpected trip home. I will probably make it home less in my fleet squadron because of the six-month deployment on a carrier out of the country.
Will you ever be sent into combat? If so, will you be one of the first women?
There is no restriction preventing me from going into combat. I am glad about that even though I hope it never comes to that. I joined the Navy to serve. I love our country with all its good and bad. I want to be a part in defending it, directly or indirectly. The ban on women in combat was lifted in the early 1990s; my older sister served in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War, though not in combat.
If we were to go to war, what would be your role in the attack?
All F-14 crews are trained in delivering bombs to a target (and dropping them) as well as escorting those aircraft that do. That may involve chasing away enemy aircraft, too.