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VT-86 training squadron poses for an official class photo following their winging ceremony at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., May 27.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Fernando Moreno

Sabrehawks Winging Ceremony

3 Jun 2021 | Sgt. Annika Moody, Lance Cpl. Fernando Moreno Defense Media Activity

The Navy and Marine Corps newest aviators graduated from Training Squadron VT-86, at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, May 27.

During the graduation, aviator wings were pinned on to students signifying that they have completed the training required to become naval aviators. Out of 16 graduates at the Saberhawks most recent “winging ceremony” one Marine took home a set of wings, marking a historic moment in Marine Corps history.

U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Brenda McCarthy is the last female Marine to receive her aviator wings for the position of Weapon Systems Officer, or WSO.

As if the moment wasn’t historic enough, McCarthy was pinned by retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Amy McGrath, one of the first female WSO to complete the Naval Flight Officer training.

"That is honestly my personal goal, to be trusted by the pilots that are flying with me, because I have to trust them just as much as they have to trust me.” 1st Lt. Brenda McCarthy, Weapon Systems Officer

A WSO, or “back seater,” sits behind a pilot in an F/A-18D Legacy Hornet. Commonly referred to as “wizzos,” these aviators are responsible for key support roles such as additional situational awareness, navigation, and communication.

McCarthy wrote a letter to McGrath thanking her for what she did to fight for women in the military, specifically in the aviation field and asked her if she would also like to be a part of her ceremony.

“I told her that I knew I was going to wing in May and I would have been honored if she could join us for the winging and pin me,” McCarthy said. “I thought it would be a true inspiration for my sisters who are pretty young, and females in general in the military to see empowering women in aviation, in a men’s club, just honoring each other and she accepted.”

At the request of McCarthy, McGrath spoke at the graduation ceremony as the guest of honor. She detailed her time in service and how she had to fight for the rights of women in aviation. She explained how there was a federal law that prohibited women from becoming aviators and how she helped work to change that. “So that’s what I did, I became an advocate at that age. I wrote the local newspapers at 12 years old,” she said.

McGrath is proud that so many women are following in her footsteps as an aviator. “It’s really great to see the women who are continuing to serve in those capacities.”

The Marine Corps has changed since the time of the first female “wizzo” and it’s changing again during the time of the last. In line with the Marine Corps transition to F-35s, flight squadrons are being restructured meaning that the Weapon Systems Officer role will no longer be available.

While the F/A-18 Hornets may be entering their twilight years and the Marine Corps moves away from a two-crew concept, McCarthy says she will strive to be the best she can and help her pilots to execute their missions.

“I want to be a contributing member to whatever aircraft that I’m flying in at that time,...I want to make sure that my pilots know that I have their back wherever we are,” McCarthy said. “That is honestly my personal goal, to be trusted by the pilots that are flying with me, because I have to trust them just as much as they have to trust me.”

McCarthy is headed to follow-on training at a Fleet Replacement Squadron to start training on the specific aircraft she will be assigned, at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, in California.


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