MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII -- Since 1946, the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, or Blue Angels, has performed jaw-dropping shows all across America. However, in the nearly 70 years the squadron has been around, there have been several females on the team who were left out of the cockpit during the performances — that is, until now.
Marine Capt. Katie Higgins, the newest pilot of “Fat Albert,” a C-130 Hercules flown by the Blue Angels, has become the first woman in history to perform with the squadron.
“I am so glad I get to be a part of the 130 team members who are the best in their field,” said Higgins, a Severna Park, Md. native. “I came to the Blue Angels because I wanted to be a part of the elite team dedicated to precision and expertise. I didn’t come out here thinking I was going to be breaking barriers; I simply wanted to do my job to the best of my abilities.”
Higgins said it’s a great honor to fly for the Blue Angels, but it should feel like this for everyone on the team, male or female. As one of the squadron’s 17 officers, she said she is not treated any differently because she’s female.
“The Blue Angels are a family and they have supported me all the way, always being there for me when I need them,” Higgins said. “I wouldn’t be here without the support of the team. We’re all cogs in a machine and without just one of those pieces, it wouldn’t function properly.”
Higgins said she was greatly influenced by her family’s legacy of aviation, her pilot grandfathers, uncles and father played a key role in her decision to fly.
“I am a third-generation pilot,” Higgins said. “I am also the first female and the first Marine. My family was supportive of my decision to commission, and they were all excited when I told them I was going to be flying. My father was especially excited, being able to share that side of his life with me — it’s like officers gathering to talk about Officer Candidates School or enlisted (Marines) talking about boot camp. We got to share stories of our time in aviation, and it was our common bond.”
Marine Capt. Corrie Mays, a squadron naval flight officer and events coordinator with the Blue Angels, said it’s only a matter of time before it is common for women to hold more and more prominent roles.
“Capt. Higgins’ becoming a pilot is a reflection of what the military has been doing for decades and it shows the public that women are filling roles and it is actually happening,” said Mays, a Marstons Mills, Mass. native. “For any women who think their goals are too much of a challenge or they aren’t possible, I hope they go for it. We are here to inspire a culture of excellence, that’s what we stand for.”
Mays said being a part of something bigger than oneself means it’s no longer about being a man or a woman because everyone is held responsible.
“I’ve always taken (that) seriously and I hope women throughout the military know they each represent all of us, not just themselves,” Mays said. “From the moment I put on that eagle, globe and anchor, I no longer only represented myself as a woman, but the Marine Corps as a whole. Oftentimes, we have to work harder just to be equal but we know what we’ve signed up for, so that shouldn’t be a surprise. We are Marines because we’ve earned it, just like anyone else.”
Mays said she might differentiate herself from others due to rank or title, but she doesn’t view herself differently because she is a woman.
“If I did that, it would just be a distraction,” Mays said. “I’m here to do the same job as my male counterparts, gender doesn’t factor into what we do. We’ve had females (on the team) for years, but overall, the squadron has been successful and America has loved this team because of the teamwork we’ve put in to provide the shows that we do. Male or female, it takes all 130 of us to make that happen.”
Higgins said she hopes women keep pushing toward breaking down barriers because that is the team’s mission — to inspire people to excellence.
“I hope women in the military and civilian worlds know they are capable of anything they put their minds to,” Higgins said. “For those who may think women don’t belong in any particular position, give them a shot. Let them show you their skills and abilities, that they can exceed the standard. Give them the benefit of the doubt and don’t be quick to judge because of their gender, skin color or religion.”
Higgins said people shouldn’t limit themselves based on the opinions of others and they shouldn’t give up on their goals because something easier comes along.
“No matter what obstacles or hardships you are facing, persevere through it,” Higgins said. “Whatever path you choose, be excellent and don’t settle for mediocrity. If you strive to be the best, nobody can question you or your capabilities.”