US Navy selects first woman directly for F-35C

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In a first for the US Navy, the service selected its first wife to move directly from obtaining the title of Naval Aviator to postgraduate flight training on the F-35C Lightning II.

Lt. jg Suzelle Thomas, assigned to the “Eagles” of Training Squadron (VT) 7, received her golden wings alongside seven fellow naval aviators and an Italian navy aviator during ‘a chapel ceremony aboard Naval Air Station Meridian, Mississippi, October 29, 2021.

Parents of Lt. JG Suzelle Thomas pin on her naval aviator Wings of Gold during a ceremony aboard Naval Air Station Meridian, Oct. 29, 2021. Thomas is the first woman in the US Navy to directly select postgraduate training from the F-35C Lightning II after getting its golden wings. US Navy photo by Penny Randall.

The Chief of the Naval Air Training Rear Adm. Robert D. Westendorff, who oversees all undergraduate flight training for the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, said the ceremony was the culmination of a year of advanced training and a life of ‘studies and preparation.

“Passing primary flight training and being selected for the advanced strike training pipeline is no easy task,” said Westendorff. “It takes a lot of hard work and dedication and the men and women here have proven they have what it takes. I am so proud of each of you and I know you will continue to face the challenges ahead.

Thomas was named to the Commodore’s List during Primary Flight Training, during which she flew the T-6B Texan II turboprop aircraft. She was also named the VT-7 Student of the Quarter for the spring of 2021. She qualified in the T-45C Goshawk jet trainer aboard the aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush (CVN 77).

“I feel blessed and it was an honor to finish with my fellow Airmen,” said Thomas. “We studied together, flew together and did everything together. I felt supported by everyone at VT-7. The instructors are very helpful and the squadron works as a team.

Thomas’ drive to succeed and help others succeed did not go unnoticed by his squadron leadership.

“We are extremely proud of Lt. JG Suzelle Thomas and her performance while she was here at VT-7,” said Commander Eagles Cmdr. said Dylan Porter. “She demonstrated above-average maturity and ability in the aircraft to be selected for the F-35C platform. She stood out not only for her performance during her training here, but also as a leader among her peers. Lt. jg Thomas will be a great asset to the fleet and I am delighted to see all that she will accomplish in the future.

Thomas will report to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 125 in Lemoore, California. VFA-125 is the fleet replacement squadron for the F-35C Lightning II. The F-35C is a powerful combination of fourth and fifth generation fighter jets with advanced electronic attack and command and control capability.

“I realized that I will never fly with another person again since the F-35 is a single-seater,” Thomas said. “I look forward to controlling the flight in a very advanced and tactical way.”

Captain Robert Lanane II, left, training commodore of Air Wing 1, and Rear Adm. Robert D. Westendorff, chief of naval air training (CNATRA), join Lt. jg Suzelle Thomas and Cmdr. Dylan Porter, commanding officer of Training Squadron 7, after Thomas Naval Aviator’s wing ceremony at Naval Air Station Meridian, October 29, 2021. Thomas is the first female in the US Navy to be directly selected postgraduate training of the F-35C Lightning II after earning its golden wings. US Navy photo by Penny Randall.

Thomas, from Birmingham, Alabama, graduated in 2018 from the United States Naval Academy where she received a Bachelor of Science in Political Science. Thomas also received a Masters in Safety Studies from Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

Thomas’s parents pinned on his naval aviator Wings of Gold – wings passed down from his mentor, Captain Beth Regoli.

“I am so proud of Suzelle, she has done so many great things,” said Regoli. “I watched her develop and now earn her Golden Wings. When she worked for me, she was an outstanding contender.

Regoli gave Thomas her wings when she worked for her at the Naval Academy.

“Sometimes you never really realize the impact of the little things, when I heard she was going to use them today and saw me as her mentor, I was so happy,” Regoli said, who will soon be leaving the Naval Academy to become the commanding officer of NAS Key West, Florida. “I can’t wait to see all the fantastic things Suzelle is going to accomplish in her future.”

There are currently three women in the Navy who have gone from another plane to the F-35C. Additionally, Marine 1st Lt. Catherine Stark became the first female in the Marine Corps to directly select the F-35C after earning her Wings of Gold at Training Air Wing 1 in August 2019.

CNATRA, located in Corpus Christi, Texas, trains the world’s best combat-grade aviation professionals, delivering them at the right time, in the right numbers, and at the right cost to a naval force that’s where it counts, when it matters.

Captain Robert Lanane II, left, training commodore of Air Wing 1, and Rear Adm. Robert D. Westendorff, chief of naval air training (CNATRA), join Lt. jg Suzelle Thomas and Cmdr. Dylan Porter, commanding officer of Training Squadron 7, after Thomas Naval Aviator’s wing ceremony at Naval Air Station Meridian, October 29, 2021. Thomas is the first female in the US Navy to be directly selected postgraduate training of the F-35C Lightning II after earning its golden wings. US Navy photo by Penny Randall.
Lt. jg Suzelle Thomas moments after receiving her golden wings during a pinning ceremony aboard Naval Air Station Meridian on October 29, 2021. Thomas is the first woman in the US Navy to directly select the F-35C Lightning II postgraduate training after getting its wings. Golden. US Navy photo by Penny Randall.


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