April 28, 1993 – Secretary of Defense Les Aspin Issues Directive Allowing Women to Fly Fighter Aircraft in Combat

Leslie Aspin Jr. (1938 – 1995) served as a United States Representative from Wisconsin from 1971 to 1993, and as the United States Secretary of Defense under President Bill Clinton from January 21, 1993 to February 3, 1994.

Aspin had an interest in defense matters, and by 1985 when he became chairman of the Armed Services Committee, he was recognized as a leading defense authority.

Les Aspin, official Department of Defense photo

He was a controversial figure even in his own party however. In 1987 he supported the Reagan administration’s policies on the MX missile and aid to the Nicaraguan Contras. He again broke with many Democrats in January 1991 when he issued a paper supporting the Bush administration’s intention to use military force to drive the Iraqis from Kuwait. The accuracy of his prediction that the United States could win a quick military victory with light casualties added to his reputation as a military expert.

On April 28 1993, this day in history, Aspin announced a revised policy on the assignment of women in the armed forces: The services were to allow women to compete for assignments in combat aircraft; the Navy was to open additional ships to women and draft a proposal for Congress to remove existing legislative barriers to the assignment of women to combat vessels; and the Army and Marine Corps were to look for opportunities for women to serve in such components as field artillery and air defense.

Within three days Major Jackie Parker became the first female fighter pilot when she transferred from the Air Force to the 138th Fighter Squadron, a unit of the 174th Attack Wing of the New York Air Guard.

Major Jackie Parker

Her career did not go well, however. She was accused on inappropriate behavior toward her male colleagues and incompetency in the air. She in turn accused other members of her unit of sexual misconduct and gender discrimination. The New York Times reported that after an investigation of charges, two of her former commanding officers at the 174th Tactical Fighter Wing, based in Syracuse, were relieved of duty.

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