SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah Air National Guard commander, served as keynote speaker for the Department of Veterans Affairs Celebrate Women Veterans event here March 8.
Brig. Gen. Christine Burckle, Utah ANG commander, spoke at the annual Women’s History Month event which took place on International Women’s Day, further amplifying its mission: to support women veterans and celebrate their unique place in military history.
Gary Harter, Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs executive director, said Burckle was the ideal presenter given her historic role as the first woman to hold the position of one-star general in the Utah Army or Air National Guard, and the first to command the Utah Air National Guard.
“Women make up a vital portion of those currently serving in the armed forces and approximately 13,500 women veterans call Utah home,” he said. “We are proud of all who wear the uniform of our nation and General Burckle is an inspiration to so many.”
More than 180 guests registered for the event, in which Burckle spoke about her professional successes and challenges. She credited her mother with instilling in her the importance of education at an early age and cultivating the belief that with hard work and determination, anything was possible.
Burckle said that conviction would later help carry her through some of the unexpected career obstacles she faced as a woman in the military.
An Air Force navigator by trade, Burckle expected to have her top pick of airframes as the number-one graduate from formal navigator training school. To her dismay she was told to “pick again” when she asked to fly in the B-52 Stratofortress bomber aircraft, a job then closed to women in that career field.
Though frustrated, she selected the KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refueling aircraft as an alternate option and forged ahead with enthusiasm, maintaining her pride or professionalism, she said. In another example, she spoke about an incident that occurred while she was a young captain participating in an overseas exercise.
“Our mission was to refuel a flight of Egyptian F4 fighter aircraft and everything was normal until there seemed to be a radio transmission issue,” Burckle recalled. “I had them on my radar, inbound, and was giving them vectors to our aircraft, but for some reason they wouldn’t respond.”
“Fairly quickly, we realized that the Egyptians would engage with our boom operator, our pilot and copilot, but not me -- the only woman flying in the entire exercise,” she added. “This so infuriated my crew that the pilot told the Egyptian flight lead that our boom would remain stowed until they responded to the navigator’s directions…and guess what…suddenly, they started responding to my calls.”
The story resonated with audience member and Army veteran Tiffany Ridgeway.
“I went to Army Airborne jump school and had a commander say to me, ‘Let me tell you exactly what I think about women in the military,’ Ridgeway remembered. “It’s reassuring to see women like General Burckle succeeding and earning respect.”
In her closing remarks, Burckle acknowledged that while she may be considered a pioneer, there are countless talented female colleagues rising alongside her.
“I know that being the first carries a responsibility to make sure I’m not the last,” she said. “And I’m confident that I won’t be -- we have so many amazing women serving today that my first will become ‘same old, same old’ soon enough!”