Women's History Month spotlight: 1st Lt. Brittany Trimbel
KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Started in 1987, Women's History Month is a time not only where we celebrate female role models and historical figures, but it is also a time where we honor women in public service and government who have inspired those around them.
Sir Arthur Kent once said, "The course of human history is determined, not by what happens in the skies, but by what takes place in our hearts."
Nothing could be closer to the truth for 1st Lt. Brittany Trimbel, 36th Fighter Squadron pilot.
"I really wanted to be an astronaut," Trimbel said. "Growing up, that was my dream. I realized that there were two routes to do that, either the academic route or the pilot route."
For Trimbel, becoming a pilot was not something she had initially dreamed of doing.
"Looking back, my dad had already retired by the time I was old enough to go to school and I didn't grow up moving around with the military," Trimbel explained. "Instead I had gone to an all-girls high school, so it wasn't usual for me to hear girls talking about wanting to become fighter pilots. At the time I was going to do biology or psychology because I really liked medicine and that path."
But seeing her father's successes as a U.S. Air Force F-4 pilot and later as a commercial pilot, she knew that a career in the Air Force was what she wanted to do. So in 2008 Trimbel entered college in the Reserve Officer Training Corps.
"He still had all of the photos on the walls and we would talk about it a lot," Trimbel said. "So that is what I would accredit with my initial interest in the Air Force and flying. I didn't really start flying or become interested in flying until my sophomore year of college while I was in ROTC."
With zero flight experience Trimbel's first time ever flying an aircraft was during an incentive program to see if ROTC students were interested in becoming pilots.
"I did a CAP flight, which is like a Civil Air Patrol orientation flight that they would give out to ROTC students just to see if they were interested in flying and that was the first time I had ever gotten airborne in anything smaller than a commercial airplane," Trimbel explained.
From that point on, Trimbel began to change directions in her career path and give up pursuing a degree in pre-med to follow her heart and father's footsteps as a pilot.
"I was surprised that when I submitted for a pilot's slot I actually got it," Trimbel said. "At first it was really intimidating talking to my peers since they were like 'I wanted to be a pilot since I was born' and 'I know every airplane that the Air Force has ever owned.' But for me it just felt right, it was just a feeling that this is what I needed to do."
The thought of actually becoming a pilot for Trimbel was almost surreal once she got accepted into the program.
"So once you get a pilot's slot they tell you, you can wear a flight suit," Trimbel reminisced. "When I first wore it, it was very stiff and very starchy and I thought to myself 'Well I guess this is what I'm wearing for the rest of my life,' it felt like I was playing dress up, it didn't feel real."
Not having a background or really any knowledge about aviation other than her father's stories, Trimbel started from the bottom and worked hard to immerse herself in aviation.
"When I first started out I was like 'Wow I'm not really like these people,' I haven't spent 18 years of my life learning this stuff," Trimbel said. "By the time I started training with the Air Force I hadn't flown more than five hours. I basically had to learn how an engine worked, and what ailerons were. I definitely felt like a fish out of water, which meant that I had a lot more ground to cover than my peers in a short amount of time."
As Trimbel progressed through her courses she was able to catch up to peers and excel in her education and training. For Trimbel her goal of becoming a pilot was finally a realization during her first experience putting on air flight crew equipment.
"Once I started having gear like a helmet, harness and a G suit, that I will actually pull Gs in, that was the point where I was like 'Alright this isn't dress up, this is stuff that I'm going to use. It was definitely a moment of realization that this dream had become reality, because up until that point there were so many opportunities to be told 'You can't fly,'" Trimbel recalled.
But it wasn't always easy for Trimbel. At times she felt discouraged and wasn't sure she was going to make it through the training.
"I struggled in T-6s, it's a turbo prop so it doesn't handle as smoothly as other aircraft," explained Trimbel. "I had never really flown beforehand, much less flown in a formation. So as soon as we started flying in a formation I was like 'Whoa! That airplane is really big and what is going on?!' It took me a while to get comfortable with that, and everything counts for a grade so I was like, 'Well if I can't figure this out soon I'm not going to get an airplane.' So that was pretty discouraging."
But despite those feelings she managed to get through T-6 training and progress through her courses. The real setback for Trimbel occurred halfway through the T-38 training course when she broke her wrist.
"When that happened, the thought that ran through my mind was 'I don't want to wash back. I don't want to wash back.' I was in shock definitely," she reminisced.
Bicycling on a gravely road Trimbel had started to fall, using her arm to stop herself, she ended up shattering her wrist in the process.
"It was a freak accident," Trimbel explained. "That was one of those moments where it was like 'Okay, I think I'm comfortable enough in the T-38 where I think I will get through the course, but I was also like 'Bye friends' since I ended up getting washed back a class and they all got their assignments before me."
In spite of her injury, Trimbel made a full recovery and continued towards her goal of becoming a U.S. Air Force pilot and had finally made it to "Drop Night", which is a large event where student pilots find out what aircraft they will be assigned to in front of family, friends, instructors and peers. For Trimbel the only aircraft she ever wanted to pilot was the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
"It's one little instant that changes the trajectory of your life forever," Trimbel said. "Our Drop Night was a winter Olympics theme, so you went up on the podium dressed in ski gear and they would put a medal around your neck, you had to open the medal in front of everyone, and inside the medal was a picture of the airplane you were assigned to."
With family unable to attend since they were on holiday, Trimbel was able to use Skype to share that moment with her parents.
"It was funny because at first the person that was holding the phone to show them what was going on started jumping up and down screaming, so they couldn't get to see, and all you could hear from them was 'No! What was it?! What was it?!' I got the F-16 and it was probably the best moment of my life!" Trimbel exclaimed.
After Drop Night, Trimbel went on to B Course training to finish her path to becoming an F-16 fighter pilot, and while she may not yet be an astronaut, at the age of 25 holds admiration among her flight leads at Osan Air Base where she is currently stationed.
"She's done very well," said Maj. Shawn Walsh, 36th Fighter Squadron director of staff. "We get a lot of new people at Osan, a lot of young pilots coming right out of the B Course. Right now we have 12 lieutenants in our squadron; all of them varying levels of experience and ability. Since she has been at Osan she has done a very good job, she is one of our stronger new pilots."
For Trimbel it goes beyond the hard work she has put in to making one of her dreams a reality. It is about maintaining perspective despite setbacks or self-doubts.
"It's weird and sort of serendipitous there is no real way of knowing where I would have fallen or stood in my old class if I had not washed back, since there has only been three or four F-16 slots, and in my new class there were five," Trimbel added. "So looking back on it I would say to young girls interested in becoming a fighter pilot, don't get discouraged. Don't let thoughts like 'if I don't get the airplane I want my world is over' or 'if I do poorly on this flight then my world is over' it's never true, it's important to maintain perspective."
"I would say that the sky is the limit for lieutenant Trimbel," Walsh added. "I think she is a smart individual, and she can go as far as she wants to in the Air Force, definitely an example to follow."
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