Blowing Up the Glass Ceiling

When Linda Cox, a smiley 18-year-old from rural Chickasha, Oklahoma, wanted to join the Air Force in 1971, she had to take two tests.

The first was a standard academic exam: math, writing, plus a practical section on machines and tools. Cox aced that test, especially the last part; growing up dirt biking with her brothers in West Texas, she knew all about fixing engines.

The second was a little different. The recruiter took Cox’s measurements — bust, waist, and hips — and then pulled out a camera to take a photo. “We have to see your legs,” he said, as Cox adjusted her skirt for the best possible view. The full-length photograph, body measurements, and aptitude test were reviewed; if they could stomach the altitude chamber, the top candidates became stewardesses on a general’s aircraft.

“I was a scrawny little thing,” Cox said to me over iced teas, her tan face crinkling as she laughed at her former self. Forty or so women tried to enlist with the recruiter that day, but only Cox and one other were chosen for the WAF, the Women’s Air Force. At the time, she wasn’t offended. “It was prestigious. Hey, cool — I get to fly! Everybody else got shuffled down to the Army.” Besides, she knew her dad, a World War II veteran, would be proud of her choice to serve; her older brother had already gone to Vietnam and her mom had worked as a code breaker in the Navy.

But from the beginning, she didn’t quite fit in. The majority of women joined the WAF for clerical or nursing positions. Not Cox. “We’ve never had a woman score so high on the mechanical test,” the recruiter told her. So instead of going to the secretary pool, she learned to operate a printing press at the prairie outpost of Grand Forks, North Dakota. One evening, while hanging out in the women-only barracks, her good friend Peggy McCormick handed her an advertisement for a job called explosive ordnance disposal (EOD). Cox had never heard of it, but the page said EOD was short volunteers and paid an extra $55 a month.

“Bet you won’t do that,” McCormick said. All she knew was that EOD was dangerous and somehow involved bombs.

“Bet I will!” Cox said.

“I dare ya,” McCormick said.

That’s all it took. The nation created its first female bomb technician on a dare.

Read the whole story at Buzzfeed.