Women’s History Month Spotlight: Lt. Col. Billie Rothwell
Women’s History Month is dedicated to celebrating and reflecting on the contributions women have made to U.S. history, culture, and society. When it was first established, the women’s history celebration was only a weeklong observance. It was organized by the school district of Sonoma, California in 1978. Since then, President Jimmy Carter issued the first presidential proclamation declaring the week of March 8 as National Women’s History Week in 1980. Then, U.S. Congress followed suit the following year, passing a resolution establishing a national celebration. Six years later, the National Women’s History Project successfully petitioned Congress to expand the event to the entire month of March.
At Charleston Southern University our faculty is full of diverse, hard-working women who contribute tremendously to the success of the university. Lieutenant Colonel Billie Rothwell is in her second semester as Commander of Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps Detachment 772 and is already making her mark on history here at CSU.
Rothwell graduated from the United States Air Force Academy in 2003 with a Bachelor of Science in Social Sciences and commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant into the U.S. Air Force. She is classified as a 17D Cyber Operations Officer but is currently working out of her career field on special assignment, as the Commander of AFROTC Detachment 772. Rothwell has two U.S. Air Force Captains and one Staff Sergeant under her current command and is also responsible for the training and mentoring of 47 officer candidates to graduate and enter the Air or Space Force as 2nd Lieutenants.
Officers make up the smallest percentage of Air Force personnel, and female commanders make up an even smaller number. It is a privilege, honor, and some would say unique opportunity to be a female officer, let alone commander in the United States Air Force.
“It is an absolute honor to be a commander, only a small percentage of officers get to command in the Air Force and even a smaller percentage are women—it is something I’ll never take for granted,” said Rothwell. “A lot of people have fought and supported me to get to this position. As a female commander there is always a lot of pressure on you to perform and perform well. ‘You are always on parade,’ as General George S. Patton Jr. would say. In a commander’s symposium, you are 1 of 3 women, you must be able to articulate your viewpoints to a tee, because sometimes it’s hard for people to understand a different point of view. Your arguments must be near perfect for them to be accepted. It’s a lot of hard work and continuous stress.”
Though the number of female officers in the Air Force may be small, it is no secret that their leadership, work ethic, and personal contributions have benefited the force overall.
“Women have a lot of strengths that complement men, and we bring flexibility. Diverse work environments also foster innovation,” Rothwell said. “They bring different thoughts and perspectives in solving problems and increase efficiency. Women, in particular, are in depth multitaskers, empathetic, and put themselves in others’ shoes in order to bring people together. We have a skill in being big picture thinkers. We bring high levels of strategy and can connect it to why we do things.”
The Air Force has continued to make diversity and inclusion a priority and focal point. The number of women joining the force and making rank has increased over the years.
In the last three years alone, Rothwell said that great strides and significant improvements have been made in the area of diversity and inclusion. “However, we will always have those challenges in any workplace. It is never going to be perfect. Shoutout to the recent diversity and inclusion movement, as it is now something we talk about take seriously. It is bringing about changes in behavior and awareness to social issues. We can’t just stand by and do nothing, we need to be a just as brave as the women who came before us,” said Rothwell.
Rothwell continues to strive for excellence in her Air Force career while encouraging and inspiring the cadets here at CSU to do the same when they begin their career journey. The national theme for the 2022 Women’s History Month is “Providing healing and promoting hope.” This year’s theme is a tribute to the ceaseless work of caregivers and frontline workers during this ongoing pandemic. Rothwell has displayed her relentless efforts as Commander to provide the necessary training and education to cadets through the various obstacles COVID-19 has presented.
Her success does not go unnoticed, and the program has benefited from her leadership. From the eyes of senior AFROTC cadet Kalle-Erik Vahakyla, Rothwell is an inspirational female commander.
“Lt. Col. Rothwell represents what all Americans are,” Vahakyla said. “It is important that we have leaders that represent our entire population. She is also very personable, energetic, and fun. I feel like she really cares about me and wants me to succeed.”
Vahakyla added that Rothwell provides transparency in leadership, “We, as cadets, now have a clearer understanding of how things work within AFROTC and on active duty in the Air Force. The flow of information is very open, and we are not left in the dark about information that pertains to our future as Air Force Officers.”
According to Rothwell, Women’s History Month is a reminder of all the women who came before us and carve a place for women in history. “Women were able to speak up and make a place for those to come after them,” she said. “It is a reminder to never take things as they are, improve them. America is so much further along than other countries.”
Brianna Newman is a senior at Charleston Southern University and an intern for the Marketing & Communication office.