Tampa Bay veteran reflects on being one of the first women to enlist in Air Force

PASCO COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — A veteran in the Tampa Bay area is celebrating her honorable discharge from the military, and more than seven decades later, she reflects on when the Air Force became its own branch.

Fern Kinion was honorably discharged from the United States Air Force 75 years ago on Monday. She was one of the first women to ever be in the Air Force.

Born on a farm in Kansas, she said she knew she always wanted to do something different.

“I was working as a secretary for a while, then I read in the newspaper that the Air Force was becoming a separate service,” Kinion said.

With a pretty big travel bug and the longing for independence, she walked across the street from her office to the post office, in 1948, and signed up to break the mold.

“Signed up to go in the Air Force, passed the physical, and found myself soon after on the train to San Antonio,” she said.

The 96-year-old vet went through basic training, then, officer candidate school. Six months later, she became a Second Lieutenant where she traveled to places like West Virginia and Baltimore for recruiting.

Her career later led her overseas, where she met an Air Force pilot who would become her husband.

“And this is where 75 years ago I was discharged honorably, because you could not remain in the military if you were going to have children,” she said.

When she first joined, Kinion said there was a lot of media attention on women joining the force.

“It was a challenge to learn about marching and various facets of the military,” Kinion said.

From 1948 to 1955, she proudly served.

“I just think that you learn the discipline and the responsibility, but the opportunities that are there are whatever you make of them as you perform your duties,” she said.

After being honorably discharged, she went to work at the Air Force Academy for more than 30 years.

“I was there when the women became able to attend the Air Force Academy in 1980,” Kinion said.

Fast forward to today, she said the military looks a lot different, but she is proud to have witnessed such a historical shift in the United States Air Force all those years ago.

“I’m so blessed in so many ways to be able to do different things that I’ve done in my life,” she said.

Kinion said given the choice, she would do it all over again.

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