Story by Master Sgt. Julie Avey
104th Fighter Wing
Growing up near Tyndall Air Force Base as an Air Force “brat” wanting to follow in her Dad and Grandad’s footsteps to carry on family legacy she made the decision to become an Air Force Fighter Pilot. Maj. Ashley Rolfe is making history at the 104th Fighter Wing as the first female fighter pilot in the Wing’s seventy year history.
“The noise of the sonic booms would shake the entire room,” said Rolfe. “I thought it was the coolest thing in the entire world. So I made my dad take me to all the air shows and I would drag him to pilot to pilot and ask them how did you become a pilot. This was about when I was ten and most of them said the most direct path is the Air Force Academy. So I was a ten year old girl in fifth grade saying I’m going to be a fighter pilot. I was usually shorter than everyone else and people were usually saying ok little girl.”
Today Rolfe has been in the Air Force for eleven years. She is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and has been stationed as a U.S. Fighter Pilot at Kadena, Nellis, and Tyndall Air Force Bases. She has deployed twice, most recently Afghanistan for 6 months.
During her swearing in ceremony to the Air National Guard’s 104th Fighter Wing she thanked the wing for a warm welcome. “I’m really excited to get to know everyone here. Hopefully you don’t necessarily just see me as a chick but you see me as one of the pilots or one of the bros.”
“I think it is really awesome to hire our first female to the 104th Fighter Wing,” said Lt read the article. Col. William Bladen, 104th Operations Group Commander. “There is a diversity aspect of this but you have heard me talk about this before. More than the diversity of our color of our skin, gender, and all of that, the diversity of thought, opinion, and different perspectives we all bring to the fight is important. Rolfe you certainly bring that with all your experience. I have known her since somewhere around 2012.”
At her previous duty assignment on Tyndall AFB before coming to the 104th FW she flew T38s as an aggressor for the Raptor program.
When asked about the journey to becoming a fighter pilot Rolfe shared “I knew going in it was going to be a challenge. For anyone going into flying fighters it’s a challenge. A lot of hard work, a lot of studying, and a lot of practice. Getting into the fighter pilot culture. It just kind of happens and you work at it with the social engagements and such. As long as you are involved in Squadron events and everything not being a total hermit you should be able to work in.”
Rolfe graduated pilot training in 2007 fulfilling her life-long dream to become an F-15 fighter pilot.
“I was the only girl in my first half of pilot training,” said Rolfe. “But then I ended up transitioning after the first section of training. Once I went to the T-38s in Columbus Mississippi there was another girl in my class. She ended up being one of my bridesmaids and were still very close. We were competitive but still became lifelong friends and she ended up going to Strike Eagles. We were a little nervous when we first met because we are both type A personalities and who knew how that meshing was going to work but it worked out great.”
Women first entered pilot training in 1976 and fighter pilot training in 1993. The Air National Guard has 195 female pilots; of those, 10 are fighter pilots.
Kadena was Rolfe’s first duty assignment where she was part of the 67th Fighting Cocks as the only female F-15 fighter pilot in her squadron.
“At first the guys were hesitant because they hadn’t had a female in the squadron for a few years but it didn’t take long until I became just one of the bros,” said Rolfe. “They were very accepting and gave me just as much crap as I could give them. Brotherly love pretty much and treated me as a little sister picking on me.”
Rolfe has a year and a half old daughter.
“She’s already a fiercely independent little girl,” said Rolfe.
“I just want to impart you don’t have to be limited by what other people say,” Rolfe shared. “There was a high school football and baseball coach at my school when I was a senior. I had been telling people I want to go to the Air Force Academy. I want to be a Fighter Pilot and blah blah. He straight up told me you won’t ever be a fighter pilot because you are a girl.”
Rolfe stressed “I just want her to know even though someone might say you can’t do that. Do the research and realize no kidding if you put your mind to it you can most likely do this.”
“Like my mom, she said I couldn’t’ fly off the dining room table when I was two and half. I broke my arm doing it and that’s the kind of thing my daughter got from me. I’m having to tell her don’t stand on that rocking chair.”