A few years ago, I visited Naval Air Station Pensacola with my daughter, staying in a cottage on the beach. I had not been back to Pensacola in decades. As I awoke in the morning to the sounds of aircraft engines humming in the distance, memories flooded my thoughts.

One kept coming back to me.

Early in flight school, I was pulled over one day by the base police for driving too fast on base. I was given a speeding ticket that came with an invitation to see the commanding officer of the base. “Uh-oh! Why did I do that?” I wondered. This was not how Ensign Bell wanted to meet the commanding officer. Pulling myself together in my polished shoes and crisp khakis and with not a hair out of place, I reported to his office a few days later.

“You must remember everyone is watching you,” the captain exhorted. “You are one of the only women on base. You must be a role model.” He said it with kindness and awareness that I was one of the few women in the Navy that chose to go into naval aviation, but the message was clear.

His point washed over me again and again. Everyone was watching me—from the most senior officer to the most junior enlisted sailor. Would I succeed? Would I fail? I wondered about how I conducted myself—in class, on the flight line, at the gym. I breathed in, then out, taking in the significance of his words. It became crystallized in my mind that I was in flight school not only for myself, but also to open the doors a bit further for all the women who would follow me.

Good or bad, my actions and behavior would speak volumes to both the women and men around me.

I took the captain’s advice to heart, and it has been a guiding principle in my life ever since. That day I decided that on the outside, I would always be polished. On the inside, I would continue to develop my drive to become the kind of aviator with whom others wanted to fly.

When we choose to be role models there is an accelerating, snowball effect. This year is the celebration of 50/30 – 50 years of women in naval aviation and 30 years of women flying unrestricted. Role models now abound in military aviation.

Fly high,


Need some coaching or help creating your snowball effect? Drop me a line at CaptainBarbaraBell.com. Want to know more about being a role model? Check out my book: Flight Lessons: Navigating Through Life’s Turbulence and Learning to Fly High – in it I have some great questions to stimulate more conversation. I promise.

#womenmilitaryaviators, #taskforce5030, #rolemodel, #coaching, #mentor, #mentorship, #leadership