Woman takes over command at support base

January 02, 1994|By Karin Remesch | Karin Remesch,Contributing Writer

A decade ago, Maj. Patricia A. Shreve was turned away from flight school because she was a woman. Today, she's commander of one of the National Guard's largest aviation support facilities in the country.

She is the first woman to be appointed to that position and only TC the third woman to hold a similar post in the United States military.

Were it not for her determination to become a pilot, Major Shreve, 39, wouldn't be responsible for the Maryland Army National Guard's 68 aircraft, 176 pilots and 80 full-time employees at Weide Army Air Field at the Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Though she admits not having had a burning desire to fly, once she enlisted in the military, she thought going to flight school would give her a good career.

"And I was doubly determined to fulfill that goal when I applied for flight school in Florida and was told, 'We don't have any women, and we don't want any,' " says Major Shreve.

Being denied entry to flight school because she is a woman was blatant discrimination, she says.

She persevered and was eventually admitted and went on to become the first woman pilot for the Florida Army National Guard.

Col. Ronald R. Eaton, Major Shreve's supervisor in the National Guard, says he remembers her case well.

What he didn't realize when Major Shreve applied for her current job was that she was the woman that he recalled being turned down for flight school. Her name had changed through marriage.

"I remember when the commander of the flight school called to tell me there was a woman applying and asking if he could make it difficult for her," says Colonel Eaton, director of aviation and safety, who was working at the National Guard headquarters and was involved with the allocation of flight training slots. "I told him absolutely not."

Paving the way for women in what is often still considered a male world is not new to Major Shreves. She was a member of the first class to graduate women from the Kentucky Military Academy, one of the first women to graduate from a four-year machinist apprenticeship program and one of the first to work as a journeyman machinist.

She's also a wife, mother of a son and two step-daughters and a grandmother.

She earned a bachelor's degree in business from New York University, recently completed the maintenance manager-maintenance test pilot course and is contemplating graduate school.

Though there were times when Major Shreve remembers having to prove she could do a job just as well as male colleagues, she says that the military is an ideal environment for women to excel.

"The National Guard works hard to ensure that women and minorities get a fair chance," she says.

After moving through the ranks in her 19-year career in the military, she says she has become accepted for her abilities as a pilot and a commander.

"At first I was either resented for being a woman pilot or accused of taking a job away from a man, but gradually the preconceived notions and tunnel visions faded, and they let me in and accepted me," she says.

When she met with her new staff for the first time a few weeks ago, she only referred to being a woman once, she says.

Her colleagues say that wasn't necessary, and they certainly weren't apprehensive about getting a woman commander.

"So what?" says Maj. Charles H. Schulze about his new boss being a woman. "We might have some 'new boss jitters' until we really get to know her, but so far Major Shreve has been great to work with, and everyone is really satisfied.

"We're glad to have a new commander with a fresh perspective on how to do business," Major Schulze says.

Adds Colonel Eaton, "I've seen Major Shreve's determination to excel in the Army aviation field. She's worked very hard to get here, regardless of the obstacles. She has commitment, backbone and tenacity, and that's exactly what's required for this job."

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