Inspiring the Next Generation of aviators

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Lilia Calvillo
  • 355th Wing Public Affairs

Editor’s note: The mention of the nonprofit organization, Women in Aviation International, does not constitute endorsement of affiliation by Davis-Monthan Air Force Base or the U.S. Air Force.

Airmen from the 55th Electronic Combat Group and 354th Fighter Squadron attended the Women in Aviation International’s Girls in Aviation Day event in Mesa, Arizona, Sept. 25, 2021.

The annual event is held in multiple locations across the country and introduces girls ages 8-17 to career fields in aviation and STEM. Providing an opportunity to interact with role models face-to-face gave the girls an experience of a lifetime to meet career aviators and science, technology, engineering and math professionals.

Two of the career aviators from Davis-Monthan who attended the event were U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kari Tucker, an airborne cryptologic language analyst from the 55th ECG, and U.S. Air Force Capt. Charlene Sufficool, an A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot with the 354th FS.  

Both women grew up wanting a career in aviation, but didn’t know if it was possible.

For Tucker, she wanted to prove to her family that she could pursue a career in aviation by joining the Air Force just like her brother.

“I was 16 years old when my brother graduated from Basic Military Training out at Lackland AFB, Texas. My family went out to see him graduate and it was a moving experience. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school when I realized joining the Air Force was an option,” said Tucker.

Tucker now hopes she is able to pass down the motivation she had to pursue a male dominated career field, to the young girls interested in aviation.

“It was amazing to see how many girls and young women were interested in aviation," Tucker said. "So many girls said that they want to be an astronaut or a pilot when they grow up. Showing them all the pictures and gear and hanging out in the hangar I think really meant a lot to so many of them."

Sufficool also followed family into the Air Force. Her father, a former Air Force Thunderbirds crew chief, inspired Sufficool to pursue the Air Force. She never thought she could be a pilot, let alone, a fighter pilot. It wasn’t until her commander at the U.S. Air Force Academy encouraged her to pursue a career as a fighter pilot that she considered it might be a possibility.

”I was lucky enough to make the Wings of Blue Parachute Team and my commander at the time encouraged me to apply for a rated pilot slot," Sufficool said. "Up until then, I never thought of it as a possibility for myself. I still had not met a woman who was a pilot and thought it was a boys-only Air Force Specialty Code.”

Sufficool finally met her first female pilot at a USAFA summer program and she got her first opportunity to pilot an aircraft. This experience and her commander's encouragement led her to pursue a career as an A-10 pilot.

Since then, Sufficool finds it important to be a role model to young girls and women who aspire to become aviators.

“I really enjoyed being able to look these girls in the eyes and tell them that they absolutely have what it takes to fly,” Sufficool said.