NEWS | June 14, 2022

Operation HERoes Hosts Kentucky’s First All-Female Honor Flight

By Sgt Jesse Elbouab, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

An all-women veteran group boarded an A320 Airbus out of the Blue Grass Airport for Washington, D.C., June 11, 2022, for an historic all-female veteran honor flight.

"Normally, we fly World War II, Korean, and Vietnam veterans here to D.C., to visit their memorials," said Ashley Boggs Bruggeman, Honor Flight Kentucky flight director. "Today is significant as we are flying nothing but women -- 134 female veterans from across the commonwealth, honoring their service and the legacy they leave for future generations of women."

For additional event photos: https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjzU2V1

Women veterans of all ages and branches gathered Friday evening in Frankfort at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History for a welcome reception ahead of take-off. Sponsors from across the commonwealth provided dinner and entertainment while discussing the legacy of Honor Flight and the significance of this mission.

"I really just don't have words, which I will say is very unusual," laughed Chief Warrant Officer 3 Nancy Christiano, retired Kentucky Army National Guard. "They have done honor flights for a while. To be selected to be on the first all-female flight is an honor. We always had to work harder for the same things -- I'm just a little overwhelmed, and it is all so wonderful."

Of the 134 service members on board, the Kentucky National Guard was represented by 17 Soldiers and Airmen. This special occasion allowed Kentucky veterans from Vietnam through Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom to meet for the first time.

One veteran of note is Maj. Gen. Verna Fairchild who retired as the Assistant Adjutant General for the Kentucky Air National Guard in 2002 after serving 34 years. She is the first female general in Kentucky history.

Upon arriving in the District of Columbia, the women boarded buses and began their journey, stopping first at the National Women's History Museum.
Fairchild was honored by the museum with a presentation of her trailblazing story as a nurse and a surprise cake accompanied by the singing of Happy Birthday by surrounding veterans and staff.

Guardians, or "flight buddies," as the organization refers to them at times, play a significant role in the possibility and success of honor flights. These volunteers accompany the previous generations and ensure all their needs are met and they are as comfortable as possible throughout the special day.

“Fairchild has always been a hero to me,” said Lt. Col. April Brown, retired Kentucky Army National Guard. “To be with her as she experienced this day and to be able to celebrate her fantastic career and her birthday as well as a great honor. I know her better as a woman veteran who gets it and celebrates other women veterans. She is magnificent, and I hope she enjoyed her day. I know I did!”

Honor flight attendees experienced several significant moments throughout their day in D.C., from the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to the sound of TAPs playing after a three-gun salute at the Marine Corps War Memorial.

One memorial brought an atmospheric change to the lively group. The Vietnam Women's Memorial, where Vietnam Veterans, all nurses, in the group came together to place a wreath and take a moment to embrace each other in remembrance.

“I can definitely attest to adversities that have been overcome as a female soldier,” said former Kentucky National Guard combat medic, Connie Wheeler. “Recognizing how women who have seen a need - fulfilled a need is spreading awareness and encouraging younger generations. Much like Gen. Robinson said, ‘If you can’t see it, you can’t be it,’ monuments like the Woman’s Vietnam Memorial is that visual reminder that we can ‘be it’.”

The Honor Flight Kentucky Team, veterans, and volunteers returned to the Blue Grass Airport Saturday evening with a communal welcoming that brought many to tears. From signs adorned with red, white, and blue admiration, to the 100s of flags waving from attendees.

All attendees were significantly impacted by the organization's efforts to honor their legacy.

When asked about the significance of the day, Lt. Col. Carla Raisler, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom shared her thoughts.
“It was a unique and profound experience to spend an entire day being recognized as a veteran by everyone we encountered,” said Raisler. “I have never experienced that before and didn’t realize how important it was until I tried holding back tears at our welcome home ceremony.”
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