JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. --
Col. Elizabeth S. Larson is the Director of Operations, Plans and Requirements, assigned to Air Force District of Washington at Joint Base Andrews, Md. In this position, she serves as the primary advisor to the AFDW commander and his staff, providing policy and planning for all operational matters related to planned and contingency events in the National Capital Region.
Col. Larson is also an expert civilian and Air Force pilot with 3,500 recorded flying hours, 496 of which occurred during combat. She has piloted multiple airframes to include the T-38 trainer, T-37 trainer, light-lift UH1N Huey helicopter, F-15 Eagle and Boeing 727. She is one of only a few hundred Air Force pilots qualified to fly the U-2R/S Dragon Lady reconnaissance plane.
In celebration of Women’s Equality Day approaching this weekend, AFDW Public Affairs spoke with this accomplished Airman regarding her perspective as an officer leader in today's Air Force.
Below is what was discussed.
AFDW Public Affairs: Who has been a role model in your life that encouraged you along your professional path?
Col. Larson: My Mom was my biggest fan and influence growing up. She told me daily that I could exceed in any career I wanted if I worked hard enough. I took her words to heart and did not "expect" barriers to achieving my career goals. I learned that while I may not achieve all of my goals I would go further by simply trying.
AFDW PA: Who are trailblazing, historical figures you admire?
CL: Harriet Tubman. She had to overcome so much more than I could ever imagine. When I was young, there really weren't any strong, brave female role models in popular media, so you had to look for them. I stumbled onto this incredibly brave woman who overcame so much more than I would ever have to face. This further instilled in me that anything was possible and my problems were trivial in the grand scheme.
Later in life, I discovered the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots. These amazing woman pilots answered their nation’s call and did what they were "allowed" to do during WWII: instruct, fly airlift cargo, tow banners and ferry aircraft to the war front. The WASPs did their duty well. They were incredibly strong women who inspired me. They weren't celebrated for being women in a male world; they were celebrated for being excellent. I was fortunate to meet many of them throughout my career
AFDW PA: What has been a highlight of your career as an Air Force officer?
CL: Leading Airmen is by far the biggest highlight of my career. It’s an incredible feeling helping young Airmen find and develop their passions and become better individuals who they never believed they could be.
AFDW PA: As a leader, have you observed benefits and advantages to a diverse military force?
CL: Of course I say yes. The greatest thing about the Air Force is its people. Give a problem to Airmen and they will solve it. Diversity of cultures, ideas and life experiences certainly brings a stronger solution set to a problem. Diversity is like more data for your computer. It only makes sense.
My friends find it ironic that one of the reasons I joined the Air Force was for its equality. Women in the Air Force make the exact same salaries as men. With the exception of this article, I'm an Air Force colonel, not a "woman" Air Force colonel.
AFDW PA: What are key attributes of an officer leader?
CL: To name a few, expertise, professionalism, humor, enthusiasm....but I would say I've relied most on empathy. If a leader tries to put herself in the shoes of her Airman, she'll do well. If your team not only thinks you care about them, but believes it, you'll be able to lead them anywhere.
AFDW PA: Do you think it's important to bring attention to the issue of equality in the military?
CL: The military exists to defend the nation. This must always come first. That said, equality is absolutely necessary for an effective team. The wingman philosophy is what makes the Air Force a strong fighting community. My experience is that 99% of Airmen get it. Yes, in the beginning there were things women weren't allowed to do, but with time and proof, we can now.