Retired Colonel Encourages Women to Continue Breaking Barriers
Retired Col. Kim Olson was among the first women to fly combat missions in the Air Force.
Among the first females to fly combat missions for the U.S. Air Force, retired Col. Kim Olson broke barriers for women. In a speech at UT Dallas’ Women’s History Month celebration, she encouraged women in the audience to do the same for future generations.
“We didn’t just open those doors; we kind of took those doors off the hinges,” Olson told an audience at the event on March 26 in the Eugene McDermott Library. The event was hosted by The Carolyn Lipshy Galerstein Women’s Center and the UT Dallas Veteran Services Center.
Women were not allowed to fly combat aircraft in the 1980s when Olson started flying for the Air Force. She later was deployed to combat zones in Bosnia and Iraq. Olson, who served in the Air Force for 25 years, is now president and executive director of Grace After Fire, a Fort Worth-based nonprofit organization that helps women transition from military life. She is also the author of Iraq and Back: Inside the War to Win the Peace.
Olson’s generation of pilots paved the way for another generation of pilots that includes Lisa McNeme, a lieutenant colonel who flew B-52s during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
“Because we have put women into harm’s way, because women have served in the most hyper-masculine institute there is, the U.S. military, and have been successful at it, the country stands at a wonderful opportunity to utilize these fabulous talents that we bring to the table into the executive levels of leadership in this country,”
“Kim’s generation, they were the trailblazers. They were the first generation of women pilots,” said McNeme, assistant director of the Veteran Services Center at UT Dallas. “Women started flying aircraft in the late '70s and were not allowed to fly combat aircraft until the '90s. That transition was made possible through the trailblazers.”
Olson’s accomplishments also inspired Estefany Agudelo, a criminology junior who introduced the speaker. Agudelo serves in the U.S. Army Reserve, fixing hydraulic parts for military aircraft, while attending UT Dallas and working in the Veteran Services Center.
“Kim’s military career allowed her to change perceptions about women serving in the armed forces,” Agudelo said.
Agudelo told the audience that she aims to get a master’s degree in computer science and work in federal law enforcement.
Olson said that younger generations of women now have an opportunity to make history.
“We stand, ladies, on the edge of something very great because of what has happened in the last 12 years around warfare,” Olson said. She compared the opportunity to that after World War I, when women’s wartime roles as nurses propelled them into nursing jobs and generated support for women’s suffrage.
“Because we have put women into harm’s way, because women have served in the most hyper-masculine institute there is, the U.S. military, and have been successful at it, the country stands at a wonderful opportunity to utilize these fabulous talents that we bring to the table into the executive levels of leadership in this country,” Olson said.
Having more women in top leadership roles can help the nation arrive at new solutions to conflict, she said.
“This is our window of opportunity, ladies,” Olson said. “This is where we stand as a great nation, and the only question you gotta go home and think about is: What part are you going to play in catapulting women into those levels?”
Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].