As Maj. Lauren Olme, 77th Weapons Squadron assistant director of operations, fires up the engines of a B-1 Lancer on Dyess Air Force Base, she is living out her lifelong dream of being a pilot. In addition to that dream, she achieved a new feat that will impact future generations of servicewomen: Flying while pregnant.
As told by Senior Airman Leon Redfern, 7th Bomb Wing Public Affairs, in the article B-1 baby on board, Lauren garnered her passion for flying by watching her father fly as an F-15C pilot in the Air Force.
Lauren met her husband, Maj. Mark Olme, 7th Operations Support Squadron bomb wing weapons officer, while attending the Air Force Academy. They became fast friends and started dating in November of 2011, eventually getting married seven months after graduation.
“We were navigating being newlyweds while both going through Undergraduate Pilot Training,” Lauren said. “Both of our flight commanders were B-1 pilots, and the bomber community combined a lot of aspects that we both wanted out of flying. We were extremely fortunate to both get assigned the B-1 out of UPT and haven’t regretted it for a second!”
After completing training at Dyess, the Olmes moved to Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, and over the next few years journeyed to several assignments together. They deployed on a Bomber Task Force to Andersen AFB, Guam, multiple at Nellis AFB, Nevada, and a combat deployment to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. In 2020 they completed the Air Force’s version of “Top Gun,” the US Air Force Weapons School course.
“Lauren and I have been very blessed with the opportunity to be stationed together, deploy together and go on multiple month-long exercises together,” said Mark.
In August 2022, Lauren and Mark both found out they would be adding one more addition to their family.
“I was honestly shocked when we found out I was pregnant,” Lauren said. “We had been trying for a few months and I somewhat expected another negative test. I tested right before work and after finding out it was positive, holding that secret from Mark all day was torture but I wanted to tell him in person.”
Despite being pregnant, Lauren still longed to fly. This past year, a new Air Force policy stated aircrew members may voluntarily request to fly during pregnancy and no waiver is required to fly in the second trimester with an uncomplicated pregnancy in a non-ejection seat aircraft if all flight safety criteria are met. All pregnant aircrew members are also authorized to apply for a waiver regardless of trimester, aircraft or flight profile.
“I can’t overexpress how amazing it is that pregnant women now have the opportunity to fly in all types of aircraft,” said Lauren. “It’s a very personal decision that Mark and I made together because there are risks involved in flying the B-1 while pregnant but after conferring with Air Force and civilian medical doctors, we felt comfortable with me flying for a few weeks.”
Aircrew members who wish to fly while pregnant are informed of the risks to themselves, the fetus, the safety of flight, and mission, consistent with all medical conditions. The approval is granted through joint consent of the aviator, obstetrics provider, flight surgeon, and commander.
“This policy is a huge benefit to the Air Force, they have deliberately made a change that provides female aircrew members the same opportunities as male aircrew members,” said Lt. Col. Charles Armstrong, 77th WPS commander. “This allows female aviators to continue building up their qualifications and flight hours to progress in their career field through pregnancy. It was based on years of analysis and research from aircrew physiologists both in the Air Force and outside agencies to make the determination that it is safe and acceptable for women to fly a longer period than they have done in the past.”
This allows the member to weigh out the pros and cons, ultimately deciding for themselves whether they want to fly or not.
“One of my biggest reservations about getting pregnant while being on a flying assignment was the time away from the cockpit, so having the opportunity to continue to fly and not take as much time out of the jet is a great thing,” said Lauren. “The policy allows for aviators to fly up to 28 weeks, but for various reasons my medical team decided it best to stop around the 22-week point, so that is all the flying I’ll do with our baby.”
Baby Olme, who is expected to arrive in April 2023, has become one of the first babies in the Department of Defense to clock 9.2 hours in a supersonic aircraft.
Additionally, the new Air Force policy allows women, both enlisted and civilian, to apply and compete for an Officer Training School commission while pregnant.
Under the new guidance reflected in the Department of the Air Force (DAF) Manual 36-2032, Military Recruiting and Accessions, pregnant Airmen, Guardians and civilians can now apply for OTS commissioning and, if selected, will attend training between six to 14-and-a-half months after completion of the pregnancy.
Prior to the change, DAF policy required OTS applicants to be worldwide qualified at the time of application, preventing women from applying during pregnancy through the 12-month postpartum period.
The policy change is welcome news to those in the recruiting community who face challenges meeting annual recruiting goals in the post-pandemic environment where the labor market is low, and interest in joining the military is declining.
Photo credit: Senior Airman Leon Redfern / U.S. Air Force
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