Young Airman continues old legacy

U.S. Air Force Airman First Class Mary Howe assigned to the 4th Special Operations Squadron, is an aerial gunner stationed at Hurlburt Field, FL. Howe is the granddaughter of retired Army Col. Charles Beckwith who is credited with the creation of the U.S. Army's Delta Force, officially known as 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (1st SFOD-D), one of the U.S. special missions units primarily focused on the counter-terrorism mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Desiree Whitney Moye)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Mary Howe, assigned to the 4th Special Operations Squadron, is an aerial gunner stationed at Hurlburt Field, Fla. Howe is the granddaughter of retired Army Col. Charles Beckwith, credited with the creation of the U.S. Army's Delta Force, officially known as 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta and one of the U.S. special missions units primarily focused on the counter-terrorism mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Desiree W. Moye)

U.S. Air Force Airman First Class Mary Howe, 4th Special Operations Squadron aerial gunner, rotates an AC-130 Spooky Gunship breech operating handle, ensuring accurate assembly on the flightline at Hurlburt Field, Fla., June 17, 2013. Howe is the granddaughter of retired Army Col. Charles Beckwith who is credited with the creation of the U.S. Army's Delta Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Desiree Whitney Moye)

U.S. Air Force Airman First Class Mary Howe, 4th Special Operations Squadron aerial gunner, rotates an AC-130 Spooky Gunship breech operating handle, ensuring accurate assembly on the flightline at Hurlburt Field, Fla., June 17, 2013. Howe is the granddaughter of retired Army Col. Charles Beckwith who is credited with the creation of the U.S. Army's Delta Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Desiree Whitney Moye)

U.S. Air Force Airman First Class Mary Howe, 4th Special Operations Squadron aerial gunner, inspects an AC-130 Spooky Gunship ammunition, storage and handling system for foreign object debris, Hurlburt Field, Fla., June 17, 2013. Howe is the granddaughter of retired Army Col. Charles Beckwith who is credited with the creation of the U.S. Army's Delta Force, which in turn paved the way for the special operations we know today. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Desiree Whitney Moye)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Mary Howe, 4th Special Operations Squadron aerial gunner, inspects an AC-130 Spooky gunship's ammunition, storage and handling system for foreign objects and debris, on the flightline at Hurlburt Field, Fla., June 17, 2013. Howe is the granddaughter of retired Army Col. Charles Beckwith who is credited with the creation of the U.S. Army's Delta Force, which in turn paved the way for special operations today. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Desiree W. Moye)

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- Her relaxing charm juxtaposed with her quiet intensity could easily be overlooked by what looked like a nervous smile as the confidence which brought her to where she is today illuminated the room. A long lineage of American heroes, subtly embedded in her DNA, spoke in volumes the day she enlisted on this country's day of independence, and today, as she proudly donned her U.S. Air Force flight suit.

Airman 1st Class Mary Howe, an aerial gunner for the 4th Special Operations Squadron, didn't choose to serve in the military because of her family history, nor did her parents pressure her to continue their family's proud heritage, Howe explained. Her parents, however, met her self-realization to serve with a clear message.

"My parents just want me to work hard, give my part and serve my country--that's exactly what I want to do, that's my passion and it's what I love," she said.

What she loves is a career filled with just under 200 operators who man weapons on gunships and helicopters while ensuring the safety of passengers and equipment before, during and after a flight.

"I'm so happy to be part of the gunship community--it's definitely a family," she said. "I'm glad I can do a job where I get to make sure the guys on the ground are safe."

Her father retired from the U.S Army and participated in missions all over the world, including Mogadishu, Somalia, made famous in the movie Black Hawk Down, and her grandfather is attributed to the creation of the elite special operations unit Delta Force.

"With the gunship mission, I get to make sure that the good guys like my dad and the people he worked with go home to their families," she said.

In a physically and mentally demanding career field with female Airmen in extremely sparse numbers, it's not a matter of proving herself as better than her male counterparts, it's the effervescence of her indomitable spirit that marks a trajectory to propel her past anyone and everyone.

"My attitude is, 'I'm going to be the best,'" she said. "If you go in with that mindset, you're going to excel in your job. I don't see the line of male and female, I just see that I want to be the best gunner I can be."

Howe didn't originally have the intention to defy cultural norms and gender roles, but she did occasionally think about what contribution she might have to strides in women empowerment.

"Honestly, being a female in this kind of position, I hope I have a good impact on women that want to do something like this and be proactive in the military," she said. "If there's something you really want to do and it's your passion, you've got to go for it. Of course there're going to be highs and lows, but if you have the passion and the drive anyone can do it."

Although Howe is still in the infancy of her military career, her unfaltering enthusiasm to serve her country and tenacity to be part of the special operations community inherently continues the legacy of military service in her family which truly reveals itself as something... special.