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Women’s History Month: Academy grad chooses barriers ‘important enough to break’

(Courtesy photo)

Story by Jennifer Spradlin

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — Air Force Academy graduate Tracy La Tourrette is Colorado’s first female fighter pilot and one of the first women in the world to fly fighter aircraft.

She grew up in Evergreen, Colorado, an hour and half northwest of the Academy.

“You could feel it was different,” she said, of her first visit to the Academy at age 10. “I felt like I needed to walk a little taller, to hold my head a little higher. Even at that age, I knew the people who had graced those halls were warriors who made our nation free, and I wanted to be a part of it.”

LaTourrette attended the Academy from 1988-1992. It was a different time in the Air Force. Her graduating class was 88 percent male; female pilots weren’t authorized to fly in combat.

She began her Air Force career as a weapons director aboard the Airborne Warning and Control System. For five years, she was deployed more than 200 days a year to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and South America. It was an opportunity to see the world, and she loved it, but inside she was nurturing a desire to fly.

She decided to transition into the National Guard and applied to flying positions throughout the country. Ultimately, she opted to fly the F-16 Fighting Falcon for her home state.

“The only barrier I was trying to break was the sound barrier,” she said. The fact that she was a woman doing what few other women had done was not something she let distract her.

“Everyone experiences barriers in their life,” she said. “Barriers serve a real purpose: they either divert you onto a new path, which means that goal wasn’t that important to you; or they drive you to fight. You choose which barriers to break – if you’re passionate about it, press. Your performance will always speak louder than your words.”

LaTourrette deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 and flew presidential protection missions with the Colorado National Guard. She retired as a lieutenant colonel after 22 years of service in 2014.

“There were a lot of people before me who worked hard to open doors,” she said. “I got to walk through some of those doors. I was one of the lucky ones – so I owe it to the next generation to continue that effort.”

LaTourrette, now a public speaker based in Colorado, recently headlined the Wings Over the Rockies Women in Aviation Showcase where she said belief in your own abilities is key to success. Before she spoke, she met one-on-one with current Academy cadets.

“It’s always cool to talk to graduates but to meet her and learn a bit about her experiences – she’s definitely a role model of mine now,” said Cadet 4th Class Francesca Verville.

Verville and the other cadets extended an invitation to LaTourrette to speak at the Schulte Assembly, an Academy club dedicated to mentorship and the open discussion of challenges facing female service members.

“Choosing the Academy, the Air Force, are the best decisions that I could have made for myself,” LaTourrette said. “The relationships I have made and the caliber of people I have had the opportunity to work with has been incredible.”