It is rare in military operations for the composition of female service members to reach 20% and also increasingly rare for those 20% to occupy key leadership roles. This is precisely what took place during the 2021 Counter Drug Operational deployment to the Caribbean, with coalition service members from both Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, and Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, joining together at Forward Operating Location (FOL) Curaçao in March 2021. FOL Curaçao was established in 2000 as a result of a multilateral agreement between the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the United States whereby aircraft and crews deploy to the FOL on a temporary basis to conduct counter-drug operations. The United States expresses its gratitude to the people and Government of Curaçao for their support of this mission and our ongoing partnership in assisting international efforts to combat global narcotics trafficking.
The operation was spearheaded by Royal Canadian Air Force Major Angela Hudson, leading the 964th Expeditionary Airborne Air Control Squadron, in conjunction with U.S. Air Force Major Kristen Rosenberg, Forward Operating Location Curaçao & Aruba Detachment 2 Director of Operations. Majors Hudson and Rosenberg were joined by a primarily female leadership team consisting of Capt. Carley Gross and Capt. Elizabeth Hicks, KC-135 and E-3 Pilots respectively, Master Sgt. Esther Bass, FOL Security Forces NCOIC, First Sergeant Rose Marie Tamba, and Senior Enlisted Aircrew Member Master Sgt. Latisha Russell, as they led over 130 troops in the execution of the Counter Drug Operation in the South America, Central America, and the Caribbean region.
International Women’s Day marked a poignant opportunity to recognize the value these women provide to both the Canadian and United States’ Air Forces and their direct role in this operation’s success. They gathered together on the morning of March 8th to recognize the momentous occasion and celebrate each other’s successes.
The Women, Peace and Security online event called Empowered Women Help Create a More Peaceful World: How the U.S. Government Can Leverage the Women, Peace, Security Agenda to Advance Gender Equality and Promote Peace was held on March 29, 2021, where U.S. Navy Admiral Craig S. Faller, Commander, United States Southern Command, spoke about his experience witnessing the increase in his crew’s combat effectiveness and credibility as a force when women were integrated on the naval ship he sailed.
“While progress has been made,” Faller stated, “not enough progress has been done,” and “the strength of our societies can and must be reflected inside our formations.” His comments were echoed by numerous other leaders who emphasized that women remain an underrepresented and an underutilized gender.
The U.S. Congress passed Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017, which codifies these same comments, from which the Department of Defense developed key strategy objectives in 2020. Objective number one aims to “seek and support the preparation and meaningful participation of women around the world in decision-making processes related to conflict and crisis.” Ambassador Jean Manes, who holds the Women, Peace, and Security Portfolio at United States Southern Command, highlights one main effort is to “make the invisible, visible.”
The successes of this group of impeccable airmen and women involved in this deployment symbolize the culmination of efforts at the very top of the military. These women represent precisely the continued improvement of female representation that Admiral Faller spoke about.
As part of the re-occurring operations from FOL Curaçao in 2021, the E-3 AWACS and KC-135 aided in the interdiction of over 272 kilograms of illegal narcotics. Their efforts are not done in isolation, however. Throughout the year, AWACS is joined by efforts from the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection maritime division, and Drug Enforcement Administration, maximizing interagency operability for this mission. All agencies involved in this mission provide intelligence and operations support as part of Joint Interagency Task Force – South, which spearheads and coordinates the efforts. The United States, Canada, and twenty other partnering nations have a long history of combining efforts with the aim of disrupting the flow of illegal narcotics from the South America, Central American, and the Caribbean region.