When the USS Abraham Lincoln left San Diego in April 1995 for a six-month deployment in the Persian Gulf, it was the first Pacific Fleet ship to go to sea with female combat pilots. Before they had even gotten underway, one of the eighteen women aviators had been killed. By the time the ship returned to California, another had turned in her wings, and a third had been sent home for poor performance. But most thrived in their demanding new environment despite the pressures. This is the story of one of those pilots, Loree Draude, a twenty-seven-year-old navy lieutenant and the only female pilot in the carrier’s S-3B Viking antisubmarine warfare squadron. She describes the historic cruise with rare candor and balance. In the center of one of the most pressing social issues facing the military today, Draude offers both a personally revealing and professionally insightful account of breaking into the world of the male combat pilot.
She writes frankly about the strained interaction between men and women on the Lincoln as they struggled to define their new roles and about the women’s attempts to overcome mistrust and resentment by proving their skill, courage, and determination. She describes the typically competitive route to the deployment and reflects on the irony of flying her jet to defend Arab countries that won’t allow women to drive cars, bare their arms, or even go out alone in public. Informative as well as entertaining, her chronicle of life at sea is a testament to the accomplishments of these pioneering women. No matter which side of the debate a reader takes, Draude adds a significant new dimension to the controversy over female integration of navy combat aviation squadrons. As co-ed deployments become routine and women like Draude can be accepted as just another pilot, her journal will serve as a reminder of the navy’s struggle to adjust to a new era.
Tell me a little about your book “She’s Just Another Navy Pilot”
My book is a description of the first west coast deployment of a US Navy aircraft carrier with women onboard in combat squadrons and as part of the ship’s company. I tell the story from my POV, but I include “Other Voices” in the Appendix: the POVs of some of my fellow aviators.
What is the backstory behind “She’s Just Another Navy Pilot”?
I kept a journal during my first deployment because I wanted to remember the experience in detail and pass it on to any future children I might have. I appreciated being able to vent and talk about my struggles and celebrations; it was essentially paper therapy. When we finished the 6-month deployment, there were some negative stories in the media that I felt didn’t accurately represent my experience, so I wanted to add my voice to the discussion. I worked with the brother of my husband at the time (we’ve since divorced) who had already published a book, and we collaborated to turn my journal into a book.
How has writing helped you personally?
Writing enables me to critically examine my thoughts and feelings about various topics. If I can’t express myself adequately through words, I know I haven’t yet thoroughly examined the topic enough and it motivates me to continue learning.
Is there one short story from your book you would like to share?
Yes. This is a quick story that I love to share because it is an example of the camaraderie among aviators. We love to entertain each other by making fun of each other. There’s a tough brotherly/sisterly love in a ready room. Btw, the RIO later gave me his patch and we’re still friends to this day.
The pranks in the ready room gradually escalated as our cruise progressed.
Whenever someone left a coffee mug or a water bottle on a table in the ready room, other people usually took it upon themselves to stash the article in the freezer. Over time the practice came to include hats, gloves, clipboards—anything and everything. And if the ready-room residents were feeling particularly cruel, they would soak the forgotten articles in water and twist them into odd shapes before depositing them in the freezer.
It was silly but entertaining to watch people wander into the ready room and start looking bewildered, wondering where they had left something. The uniform hats or “covers” we wore were among the most highly sought after targets.The fabric covers could be molded into strange shapes, and they quickly froze solid.
One of the guys complained that others in the squadron were littering the computer table with the perforated edges of paper printouts from our flight summaries. Naturally I began saving the scraps of computer paper for several days, then stuffed this sizable collection of confetti into his mailbox.
The guys in my squadron teased me all the time about my fondness for sweets, especially chocolate chip cookies and chocolate ice cream. I was in the wardroom with a group of friends from the F-14 squadron when one of them got up and politely asked if anyone would like something from the food line. I asked for a cup of soft-serve ice cream with a little chocolate syrup on top.
Two minutes later this guy came back to the table with a heaping bowl of ice cream drenched with chocolate sauce. There was so much sauce, the bowl couldn’t contain it, and some of it had dripped down the backs of his hands. He plunked the bowl down on the table in front of me, and everyone started chuckling. Then one of the RIOs made the mistake of challenging me to eat all of it.
“I bet you can’t,” he taunted. “If you can, I’ll trade patches with you.” The F-14 guys were very proud of their Tomcat patches, so I went right to work. This guy obviously had no clue who he was dealing with. As I began consuming this mountain of chocolate, the RIO started looking nervous. When I got toward the end, I began taunting him by eating slowly as though I were getting full, then scraping the bottom of the bowl with my spoon. Finally, I finished the last drop and flipped the bowl over while the others at the table cheered my victory.
I showed mercy on the guy by letting him keep his patch. But I think I proved my point. “Never go against Rowdy when chocolate’s on the line,” I told him. (Even that was a variation on a line from a movie, in this case, The Princess Bride: “Never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line.”)
Is there anything that you had to Edit OUT of the book that you wished was kept in?
Yes. I was still on active duty when I wrote the book, so I sent it up the chain of command for review. The powers-that-be insisted I remove the chapter I had written about SERE (Search, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) school (basically, POW training). I wrote the chapter knowing it was highly likely they’d censor it, and for understandable reasons, as the military doesn’t want to divulge how they’re delivering that type of training. But it was one of the best training I went through in the military, and I enjoyed writing about it.
What is the biggest takeaway that you hope a reader will learn from “She’s Just Another Navy Pilot”?
Good leadership matters. I have no doubt that a major reason I successfully completed that first deployment was because I had a great skipper and junior officers in my squadron who were strong leaders, and committed to making the integration work, even though they didn’t necessarily agree with it, personally.
What do you want your readers to know about you?
I’ve found yoga to be healing, strengthening, and relaxing, so much so that I became a certified instructor. I volunteer for the Veterans Yoga Project. They offer a lot of in-person and online classes to help veterans cope with the challenges of life, from daily stressors to past trauma.
What advice would you give to an aspiring military author? Is there any advice they should ignore?
Write from your heart and your gut. I personally got too caught up with worrying about what people might think or what people expected me to say, rather than being true to my own experience and opinions.
What is next for you?
I wrote a one-woman show about my experiences being one of the first women to fly in a combat squadron. It was selected for the United Solo Festival last year and I performed it off-Broadway last November. I’ll be performing it again during the month of August at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland.
Purchase She’s Just Another Navy Pilot here
Loree Draude was one of the first women to fly combat jets in the U.S. Navy. She deployed twice to the Persian Gulf and accumulated over 300 carrier landings and 1600 hours of flight time. After completing her naval service, Loree earned her MBA at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. She spent 20 years in Silicon Valley, leading teams at startups and tech companies, including Google and Facebook. Loree is now an executive coach and leadership trainer and the host of the Supersonic Leaders and Teams podcast. She also wrote a book about her navy experience, called She’s Just Another Navy Pilot, which was published by the US Naval Institute Press and is available on Amazon.com. She has two adult children and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.