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Face of Defense: Fighter Pilot Balances Work, Motherhood

By Air Force Airman 1st Class Daniel Phelps
20th Fighter Wing

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C., May 18, 2011 – When Air Force Maj. Jaime Nordin saw her first airshow as a child, she knew she wanted to fly fighter jets.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Air Force Maj. Jaime Nordin drops off her daughter Caleigh at the child development center at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., April 28, 2011. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Daniel Phelps

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

"I was mesmerized by fighters -- the idea of going fast and flying upside-down," said the F-16 pilot with the 79th Fighter Squadron here, one of 58 women among the Air Force’s 2,689 fighter pilots.

The role of Air Force fighter pilots is to maintain superiority in the air and support the ground fight. But Nordin's mission goes beyond that. She also is the mother of a 2-year-old daughter named Caleigh.

"Being a mom and a fighter pilot are both equally demanding, which makes having only 24 hours in a day hard," she said. "But more and more, I'm becoming a mom, and a fighter pilot is my trade."

Nordin said she was five to six weeks pregnant when she found out Caleigh was on the way. "Because of that,” she said, “I joke with my daughter that she has flown in an F-16." But impending motherhood meant that Nordin had to take some time off from flying.

"Between pulling high G’s and the ejection seat, flying while pregnant is a ‘no go,’" she said.

Being grounded was difficult at first, the major acknowledged. "I went through an identity crisis because I had to stop flying,” she said. “I had to become something other than a fighter pilot. But after a while, my motherly instincts took over."

During that time, Nordin worked in the operations support squadron at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. After the time off from the pregnancy and recovery, her qualifications for flying were out of date, so she had to take a class at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz.

"During the time off, I really missed flying," Nordin said. "It's kind of a need. I missed being in the air and the camaraderie of the squadron."

Nordin's husband also is an F-16 pilot, which presents unique challenges to the couple in raising a 2-year-old. For example, she said, she sometimes worries about what will happen while she's flying or in the middle of something else and can't pick up Caleigh.

"Fortunately, we have friends who are willing to step in and help us out at the drop of a hat," she said. "Several times we've had to cash in on them for help because of mission requirements."

For times when the two pilot parents have temporary deployments at the same time and can't bring Caleigh, they have a family care plan in place to ensure their daughter’s care.

"We've been making adjustments in our lives to make things work since Day One," Nordin said. "The busy lifestyle is the only life we know. We've always had to adjust and readjust. [Caleigh has] always known this life."

But so far, she added, the couple has not yet had to miss out on any key moments in their daughter's life.

"I know there are a ton of families where that is not the case, so we've been blessed in that way," she said. "You have to learn to celebrate the ordinary."

The mom and fighter pilot said she can tell that her daughter understands what it means for her parents to be pilots.

"She can tell you what an F-16 is," she said. "She is thrilled by them. She'll see one fly and say that's mom or dad. She enjoys sitting and watching the planes taxi down the runway. She's engulfed in it."

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Shaw Air Force Base


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