When I graduated from California State University with a degree in economics, my plan was to go to law school, but then I happened upon an article in the newspaper that captured my adventurous spirit about women becoming military pilots. After reading the article, I knew what I wanted to do. I was young, smart, idealistic, naive, and brave, so I decided to contact an Air Force recruiter. That decision changed the course of my life for the better, forever.
I had no idea what military life would be like. I took the oath of office and embraced the challenges and sacrifices that it would take to become an Air Force pilot. Two years of intense Officer and Pilot Training ensued. It was an exhilarating time in my life. I trained, tested, and pushed beyond what I thought were my limits, both mentally and physically. I learned teamwork, camaraderie, and a never-give-up attitude—the greater the challenge, the greater the reward. I earned my Air Force Wings in 1981, one of my proudest accomplishments in life.
I flew KC-135 Stratotankers on missions to provide air refueling for fighter jets, bombers, and cargo aircraft all around the world. In August 1990, I volunteered for Operation Desert Shield and flew a KC-135 from Mather Air Force Base, California to Saudi Arabia on a mission to deter Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. In 1991, Operation Desert Storm started, which marked the first time in American history that women were allowed to fly in combat missions. I’m honored that I was part of that history, flying as a KC-135 Aircraft Commander. After the Gulf War, the Air Force evaluated how women had performed in combat and made a groundbreaking change to allow women to fly fighter jets in the future. I’m very proud of my role in that decision.
Today, I am a B757 Captain for Delta Air Lines, married with two wonderful sons. I love my country and will always be grateful for the opportunity I had to serve as a pilot in the United States Air Force. I am honored to be a Woman Veteran.
We met Catherine Cook, Delta Air Lines Captain and Air Force Veteran, at her home in Carmichael, CA. She led us to her favorite room with an impressive display of memorabilia dedicated to the Air Force, flying, and her service to our country. When we asked about her life and military experience, Catherine shared her passion and advocacy for women in nontraditional careers. Her response brought to mind an ideal portrait location. Catherine assured us a single phone call would determine if our location choice would become a reality.
Excitement could be heard in Catherine’s voice when she called a few days later to tell us Delta Air Lines agreed to have Catherine photographed at the Sacramento International Airport. Calls and emails to Delta Air Lines and a detailed sketch of the photo layout brought approval and one stipulation: We had 10 minutes between flights to photograph Catherine. On the day of the shoot the weather behaved, the plane landed on time, and the waiting lift truck brought us up to the desired height. James adjusted the lights, the camera angle, and took the shot: Captain Catherine Cook, in uniform, her favorite flight jacket draped over her arm, a symbol of her career in the U.S. Air Force, standing before a Delta Air Lines B-757. Her smile projecting the immense pride she feels as a woman pilot and a Veteran.
Photo by James R. Morrison Photography