It was perhaps inevitable that Maj. Jackie Parker would grow up wanting to fly for her country.
For starters, she was born on the Fourth of July. Then as a child, she attended Apollo Elementary School in Titusville, where the principal, honest, was named Mr. Moon.
Parker learned to fly before she learned to drive, became an Air Force pilot by the time she was 20 and racked up an impressive number of firsts: youngest spaceflight air traffic controller at NASA; first woman to be an Air Force test pilot; youngest woman to serve as an instructor pilot on several different aircraft.
Finally, after women were cleared in 1993 to train for combat assignments, Parker became one of the first women to qualify as a fighter pilot for the U.S. military. It was, one would think, a fitting cap to her military career.
Except she never flew a mission. Parker, now 35, resigned from flying last summer after she was told she could not join her squadron on a mission to Turkey. A resulting internal investigation revealed a pattern of discrimination against her. And although she says the experience hasn’t soured her on the military, it has reminded her that even 30 years after the modern women’s movement began, women are still treated differently.
“It’s sad. It’s still a big deal, and I wish it wasn’t,” says Parker, minutes after addressing a group of about 325 grade-school students at Glen Hope Elementary in Colleyville, Texas, where one of her sisters lives. “I’m tired of always being in an occupation that’s newsworthy.
… All I wanted to do is fly.”
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