Mr. Speaker, New Mexico High School senior Tammie Jo Shults dreamed of becoming a pilot. As a child, she had watched planes from nearby Holloman Air Force Base practice combat maneuvers in the sky above the ranch where she grew up.
Her dream motivated her to attend a lecture on her high school’s career day put on by a retired military pilot. The only obstacle to fulfilling her dream, however, was not her lack of ability but, rather, her gender.
Upon entering the room, the retired colonel asked her if she was lost. When she replied that she was there because she was interested in flying, he informed her that there were no professional pilots.
After college, this hurdle manifested itself again and again, as Shults found herself denied from joining the Air Force as a pilot, even though her brother was accepted. She finally broke into the Navy, but as a woman, she was not allowed to fly combat missions.
Nevertheless, Shults’s persistence paid off, becoming one of the first women to fly the F/ A–18 Hornet, the Navy’s premier strike aircraft at the time. She rose to the rank of Lieutenant Commander before retiring.
She helped prepare Naval aviators for Operation Desert Storm by flying training missions as an enemy aircraft. All of these accomplishments and her stellar career as a commercial pilot for Texas-based Southwest Airlines distinguish her as a one of Americas best, but her actions as pilot of Flight 1380 from New York to Dallas have made her a household name.
Shortly after takeoff, the engine on the left side of Shults’s aircraft exploded, and shrapnel broke through one of the plane’s windows, causing the cabin to abruptly depressurize. Panic ensued on board, as one passenger was partially sucked out of the aircraft, but Shults remained cool and collected.
She informed air traffic control of the plane’s situation, and when asked about the engine, she matter-of-factly replied, ‘‘No it’s not on fire, but some of its missing. They said there’s a hole, and uh, someone went out.’’
Mr. Speaker, try saying that without trembling. Shults made an emergency landing in Philadelphia, and while one passenger sadly died from the injuries sustained in the accident, the other passengers and crew members exited the aircraft on the ground unharmed.
Mr. Speaker, Shults and her crew saved 148 lives. Women like Shults are exemplary examples of Americas veterans, always answering the call to duty and service. If there’s anyone that we want in the cockpit during a crisis, it’s Tammie Jo Shults.
And that’s just the way it is.