Women ATOs

Terry Walter and other Women ATOs marching outside of the Academy's "Bring Me Men" ramp

In 1975, 15 female lieutenants were selected from a pool of 600 young women Air Force officers to serve as both test pilots and role models for the first female Air Force Academy cadets. The use of women Air Training Officers (ATOs) was based on the Academy’s decision in 1955 to use young male Air Force lieutenants–instead of upperclass cadets from West Point or Annapolis–to train the first three classes of AFA cadets.  

From January to June 1976, the women ATOs completed an abbreviated cadet training course led by several hundred male cadets to prepare both themselves and the Academy for the 150 female cadets arriving that summer. They went through Basic Cadet Training exercises, the obstacle course, the assault course, water survival, unarmed combat, navigation training, firearms training, sports and weight training, and introductions to airmanship programs. 

Their presence conditioned cadets and officers alike to the idea of women on campus. They changed negative attitudes and fine-tuned plans for the integration of women cadets into the cadet wing. When the incoming class arrived, 12 ATOs acted as surrogate female upperclassmen until the Class of 1980 women could fill that role.

Hundreds of photos from their time at USAFA were saved as slides and negatives. In 2023 the ATOs and the Friends of the Air Force Academy Library helped Clark Special Collections preserve and highlight this Academy experience by donating funds to pay Friends’ archivists to digitize the entire collection. One of the former ATOs, Virginia Procino Hartmann, generously volunteered a significant amount of time to properly identify and label the photographs. 

The project—the first of its kind–was a major success. The McDermott Library now has an extensive digital photograph collection and index for the Women ATO Collection.


Preflight Equipment Check

From Left to Right: Bonnie (Stephan) Hampton, Elizabeth (Goolsby) Stout, Paula (Gathright) Roderick, Virginia (Procino) Hartmann, Irene (Graf) Rathburn, Terry (Walter) Gabreski, Yardley (Nelson) Hunter, Dawn Reed, Rhonda Roszel, Shirley (Popper) Eadline, Rhoda (Sweitzer) Danforth.

Obstacle Course

Rhoda (Sweitzer) Danforth.

Weight Room

Sitting, from Left: Yardley (Nelson) Hunter, Bonnie (Stephan) Hampton, Standing, Rhoda (Sweitzer) Danforth.


Mitchell Hall

Facing Camera, from Left: Rhonda Roszel, Paula (Gathright) Roderick, Shirley (Popper) Eadline.


Flight Training

Paula (Gathright) Roderick.


Navigation Classroom Traininng 

Front Row, from Left: Susan (Hamilton) Wright, Virginia (Procino) Hartmann, Rhonda Roszel. Second Row, from Left: Shirley (Popper) Eadline, Yardley (Nelson) Hunter.


Marching on the Terrazzo

Front Row: Terry (Walter) Gabreski; Second Row, on Left: Irene (Graf) Rathburn. Second Row, on Right: ???, Charlotte Greene. Third Row from Left: Paula (Gathright) Roderick, Rhoda (Sweitzer) Danforth, Yardley (Nelson) Hunter.