Vance’s first Torch Athena event

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Christopher Ornelas Jr.
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. – On May 17, 2024, Team Vance hosted its first Torch Athena event, a women's initiative within the Air Education and Training Command, with the primary goal of fostering camaraderie among participants and addressing critical issues as a united team.

While the Athena program exists across major commands in the Air Force, its purpose at a pilot training base like Vance Air Force Base is to inspire and educate women on careers in aviation. The program is named after the Greek goddess of wisdom, war and crafts, traits common among female service members.

At the event, a panel of female pilots from various squadrons at Vance Air Force Base discussed the challenges of working in a male-dominated career field, covering topics such as new maternity flight suits, female piddle packs and covering the Air Force's recent strides in addressing these issues. Afterwards, they took children, from the base Youth Center, onto the flightline for an up-close look at aircraft.

"I don't know how many women see aviation in the Air Force as an option," said 1st Lt. Zoey Chittick, a first-assignment instructor pilot assigned to the 33rd Flying Training Squadron. "Unless they have had somebody in their family or friend that has been an inspiration for them, I don't know how many women know a career in aviation is open to them."

During fiscal year 2020, men comprised nearly 94 percent of active-duty pilots, and women just over 6 percent, according to Air Force Personnel Center data from October 2020.

Given the disparity between male and female pilots in the Air Force, pilots like Chittick receive support from base leadership to combat these critical issues.

"I got to go to Moody Air Force Base in Georgia last year and talk with school kids about planes and aviation," said Chittick. "We have even talked to kids in Kansas, Dallas and the San Antonio area. While the excitement is always there with the boys, we try to get girls on the same excitement level.”

"We started Vance's first Torch Athena event with pilots because that's our mission, to train the world's best pilots," said Senior Airman Shamika Williams, a military personnel specialist assigned to the 71st Force Support Squadron. "We plan to go to other career fields like security forces and medical to examine any issues females may experience there, with the goal of seeing what we can improve around the base for our female Airmen, both officer and enlisted.”

Williams wants people to know that their concerns are being heard. “Yes, Torch Athena does focus primarily on female empowerment, but we also want to empower males to take notice of things that need to be changed and advocate for them,” said Williams.