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WomanOf the Month 8-06: Major Nicole M. E. Malachowski

She provided air support over Kosovo in 1998 during the Bosnian/Serb conflict and on election day in Iraq. In her current assignment, she makes history as the first female demonstration pilot on a U.S. military jet team. The right wing pilot on the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Squadron, Maj. Nicole M.E. Malachowski, 31, says that it’s because of such opportunity that the U.S. is the greatest country on earth.

Maj. Malachowski knew about as early as anyone could know just what she wanted to be, never wavered, and found the ideal home for those dreams in the U.S. Air Force in Colorado Springs. Accompanying her parents when she was five years old to an air show in central California saw an F4 Phantom jet perform and announced, “I’m going to be a fighter pilot some day.apostrophe Her patriotic family responded with nothing but support. Her grandfather had retired from the military and her father had been drafted during Vietnam. “It seems strange to have had that conviction at such an early age,apostrophe she says, “but they said OK. They didn’t think twice. They thought that was an entirely achievable goal for me, despite the fact that in 1979 women were not allowed to fly fighters.apostrophe

Maj. Malachowski studied aviation and learned flying with the Civil Air Patrol while serving in the Junior ROTC through high school. (She soloed before she had obtained her driver’s license.) She entered the Air Force Academy in 1992 and in her junior year, the barriers to women becoming fighter pilots fell as laws changed. The opening up of opportunity, while exhilarating, brought personal challenge. Maj. Malachowski had majored in business management at the Academy with a minor in French.

“My whole life I had been talking about how I wanted to be a fighter pilot, and I was ecstatic. But I realized, ‘Now I have to put my money where my mouth is. Making that happen is a whole nother thing.’ But how lucky we are that we’re in a country where that can actually come true.

“The Air Force is what attracted me to it. This is a capability-based organization and it’s focused on executing missions. As soon as the law changed to allow women to fly fighters, it was operations as normal.apostrophe

Out of the 530,000 people in the Air Force, fewer than 3% are pilots, and an even smaller percent fly fighters. “What I love about the Air Force is being valued for your uniqueness and strength and being evaluated for your execution. It’s cool to know that execution and teamwork are part of every second of every day, says Maj. Malachowski.

For those wishing to follow her career path, Maj. Malachowski suggests two keys to success:

  • Do something you’re passionate about
  • Pursue excellence.

In combat, training kicks in and the ability to draw upon one another’s strengths aids the team in executing the mission, she says. On election day in Iraq, she flew an F-15E jet to provide close air support to help give citizens the courage to go to the polls.

Today she describes herself as a person who is “pretty darn happyapostrophe and lives in the moment. She enjoys what’s going on around her and loves the Air Force, military life, and what it has done for her. With the Thunderbirds, she helps demonstrate Air Force teamwork and pride as well as its aircraft’s precision. It is quite a production, with eight pilots (including six demonstration pilots), four support officers, three civilians and more than 130 enlisted personnel performing in 25 career fields. The Thunderbirds may put on as many as 88 shows yearly, from March until November.
Before being assigned to the Thunderbirds, she served as an F-15E instructor pilot and flight commander with the 494th Fighter Squadron, Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England. She currently lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, with her husband, who is also a Major in the Air Force.

As for the ups and downs of serving in the military, Maj. Malachowski can think of few downs. “It’s so much more rewarding than most careers,apostrophe she says. “You’re surrounded by like-mined people who are involved in something that is bigger than them. We are all dedicated to something. There are no drawbacks, really.apostrophe