U.S. Navy

U.S. Navy Performs Its First All-Female Flyover to Honor Rosemary Mariner

For the first time in history, the United States Navy conducted a flyover using all female pilots on Saturday. The nine women participated in a Missing Man Flyover over a cemetery in Maynardville, Tenn., in honor of Capt. Rosemary Mariner, a retired Navy pilot who died last week. Captain Mariner was one of the Navy’s first female pilots and the first woman to command a naval aviation squadron.

She later fought to lift the ban on women serving in combat. She died at age 65 in Knoxville, Tenn., on Jan. 24 after battling ovarian cancer. The flyover typically involves four aircraft, which fly in a V-shaped formation until one of them peels away, flying sharply upward. The women who participated said Captain Mariner’s work was instrumental in enabling them to pursue their careers.

“Captain Mariner was so foundational in breaking down the barriers for women in naval aviation, and that’s why I’m so proud and honored to be able to participate in this flyover,” Lt. Cmdr. Paige Blok said in a video interview distributed by the Navy..

Capt. Joellen Drag Oslund, who was alongside Captain Mariner as one of the first women to be selected for Naval flight training during the 1970s, said in an interview that the flyover on Saturday was a fitting tribute to her friend, whom she called Rosie. “The entire community turned out to see those jets fly over,” she said.

An American flag was draped over Captain Mariner’s coffin during her funeral, which was held at Norris United Methodist Church in Norris, Tenn., followed by a graveside service in Maynardville. Captain Mariner’s husband and daughter were presented with the flag, and the planes flew overhead shortly after.

“It’s truly an honor, first of all, to be a part of something that’s honoring someone like Captain Mariner, who really was a trailblazer for female naval aviators,” said Cmdr. Stacy Uttecht, who participated in the formation on Saturday. “The second piece is just, it’s really awesome to be part of an all-female crew, something that the Navy has never done for a military flyover.”

Female aviators in the Navy, Army and Air Force had been limited to training and other noncombat jobs until April 1993, when Defense Secretary Les Aspin lifted the restrictions on female pilots flying combat missions. That was thanks in part to Captain Mariner, who had been working with members of Congress and a Defense Department advisory board to overturn the regulations that kept women from combat.

Her determination was apparent from the beginning of her naval career, said Captain Oslund, 68, who was a helicopter pilot. “From day one, she said, ‘I’m going to fly jets, and I’m not going to let the Navy pigeonhole me,’” she said. The pilots who participated in the flyover on Saturday were based at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, and flew F/A-18 Super Hornets in the flyover.

“The Missing Man Flyover is a special tribute honoring the service of aviators who have died serving their country,” the Navy said in a statement. “The maneuver features four aircraft flying above the funeral service in formation as one of the aircraft leaves the formation and climbs vertically into the heavens.” In the recent past the maneuver has been performed in honor of both Senator John McCain, who died in August, and President George H.W. Bush, who died in November. The weather was cool and bright during the graveside service, and Captain Oslund said the jet that peeled away from the rest seemed to disappear into the sun.

“Rosie was never one to seek out recognition or accolades,” she said. “But I think she would have greatly appreciated this.”

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