WATCH: First female commander of LRAFB visits HS

Angela Ochoa speaks to Hot Springs National Park Rotary Club on Wednesday at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hot Springs about her career as the commanding officer for the Little Rock Air Force Base. – Photo by Lance Porter of The Sentinel-Record

As the commander of the 19th Airlift Wing stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base, Col. Angela Ochoa is the first female commanding officer of the LRAFB.

Women first entered pilot training for the U.S. Air Force in 1976, navigator training in 1977 and fighter pilot training in 1993, according to demographics information on the U.S. Air Force website.

To this day, the Air Force has the largest percentage of female active duty members at 21.1%, according to 2020 demographics published by the Department of Defense.

"In air mobility command, out of 17 wings, I think I am one of two females out of 17 wing commanders," Ochoa told the Hot Springs National Park Rotary Club meeting on Wednesday at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hot Springs. "Across the Air Force, specifically on the pilot side, about 10% of the rated forces are females."

She said that data has "held steady" at around 9-10% over the last 15-20 years.

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Ochoa is responsible for organizing, training and equipping personnel who operate and maintain more than 62 C-130s, Rotary Club President-elect Chris Franklin said in introducing her.

This is her third time being stationed in Arkansas, she said. The Kentucky native grew up with no connections to the military.

"For the most part, I really had no interest and didn't know about the Air Force at all, and kind of stumbled into this career of the Air Force," she said." And I'm glad I did."

She "stumbled" into the career thanks to her neighbor, she said, who was a pilot for Delta. He offered to discuss the Air Force with her, and she initially turned it down. Ochoa's mother then convinced her to listen to what her neighbor had to say.

She ended up joining a program called the Summer Scientific Seminar at the United States Air Force Academy, where she "fell in love with it," she said.

"And I came back from that week at the Summer Scientific Seminar in Colorado and I said, 'Well, I think I'm gonna go be a part of the Air Force,'" she said. "I had no idea what I would do when I would get into the Air Force, I just wanted to be a part of it because it was just so inspiring to be around a group of young people that all wanted to do something to better our nation and better themselves."

Ochoa studied biology while attending the Air Force Academy. She then applied for pilot training during her junior year and was accepted.

"Graduated, went to pilot training and was able to track to C-130s and I've spent pretty much my whole career as a C-130 pilot," she said, noting her husband was also a C-130 pilot and they have a combined total of 10 tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.

About 10,000 people live and work on LRAFB, Ochoa said. The base is the only military medical facility in the state of Arkansas, with about 60,000 retirees and veterans in the state.

"So all of the folks that have access and have benefits through the Department of Defense will come to Little Rock Air Force Base and receive care and treatment data," she said.

The base is launching a new program later this month called "Starbase." The program is a DoD-funded STEM program, specifically made to expose fifth-graders.

"Schools in the state of Arkansas can sign up for a week," Ochoa said. "The teachers can bring their fifth-grade class and they will get STEM education for that entire week. Then, also, we'll bring them on to the installation, give them a tour, let them see a C-130, let them see some of the other fun toys that we have.

"We have found that fifth grade is really the age to infuse a love of science and math and technology, and quite frankly that's what our nation needs. We need more STEM, we need students that have a passion for it and we need to cultivate that in our student scholars."