Baxter became a naval aviator in the mid-seventies, one of the groundbreaking group of early women aviators. In having to confront the aviators' subculture in which women had to join in and 'act like one of the guys,' Baxter eventually realized she was betraying herself. At
Tailhook '91 she experienced incidents of abuse, spoke out about it, and
believes her career was damaged as a result. Baxter has since retired from the Navy.
Q: How did you find yourself interested in the Navy in the first
BAXTER: My father was [in the] military..... He was a bombardier navigator, B-52s in
the Air Force. It was kind of a life style that I was accustomed to. I always
wanted to fly..... Since I was a little girl. I went up on an airplane when I
was about 5-years-old and really liked it, and I think the next time I had a
flight experience I liked it. That was in the airline. I liked the
acceleration. I liked the thrill. I liked the adrenaline rush.
Q: When you thought about flying as a young girl, did anyone say, well,
Roxanne, you're a girl?
BAXTER: If they did, I don't remember. I didn't make it a front line issue
anyway. I didn't go out and tell people I wanted to fly or do it for a career,
so I probably never got challenged because of that.
Q: And then when did you make the decision, well, I'm going to be a
BAXTER: I actually made the decision to go into the service first, and then right
after I was commissioned, I wanted to go a further step and get into flight
training. And I applied after I was commissioned.
Q: Where did you go to college?
BAXTER University of Arkansas.
Q: So you finish Officer Candidate School, and you decide to fly. Was
anybody in your family surprised?
BAXTER: I think they knew I enjoyed flying. Even just as a passenger, just
riding along. No, I don't think it surprised anyone.
Q: What is it you liked about it? I always ask people who are pilots what
it is that they like about it....?
BAXTER: I think for most pilots part of it is a challenge and part of it is being
addicted to the thrill of it. There is a kind of junky aspect of it. It's a
Flying the airplane, taking off, landing, especially on a carrier. It's a
Q: Does everybody go to Pensacola for primary?
BAXTER: Pretty much. When I say Pensacola, I am referring to the whole
area. Whiting Field is where they had the primary squadron at the time.
Q: And primary for you, how did it go?
BAXTER: It went fine. The flying part went fine, the grading part went
fine. I ran into some problems with some of the other male students. They
made it pretty rough. I think some of them couldn't handle it that I was doing
well and that my grades were good. Especially the ones that were struggling.
I had some pretty bad comments made to me.
Q: Were you among the first group of women coming through? Had there
been a lot of women come through Whiting Field before this?
BAXTER: No, there were some women. At the time there weren't a lot of
women. They were taking 16 women a year. They had a quota, basically. And
I'm trying to think. I know when I finished I was... number 52 to get my wings
in the women. So maybe three or four years in there of women going through.
Q: What do you chalk it up to...the comments you heard?
BAXTER: At the time I don't think I was able to chalk it up to anything or
to really fully understand what was going on. Looking back, it's kind of [a]
social phenomenon where men are raised to think that they have to be a certain
way to be a man, and part of being a man is not being a girl or woman, and not
having the negative connotations. So when a woman comes in to fly a plane and
do something a man is supposed to do, they kind of have to redefine for
themselves what it means to be a man, and that's pretty tough for some of
Q: Especially this kind of a guy? Guys who fly airplanes. Guys who think
of themselves as Tom Cruise......
BAXTER: I think it's the ones where men are predominantly there. I know
that some more problems happened in the medical field or used to happen in the
medical field years ago when a woman wanted to be a doctor and wanted to go to
medical school. And generally what you see is as the population of women come
in or it could be blacks come in to a predominant white male arena, when you
get to a certain percentile, like 33 and up, that type of pressure backs off
and people relax a little bit, and it works.
Q: Did you feel like a ground breaker at the time?
BAXTER: Yes, I knew I was a ground breaker at the time.
Q: What did it feel like?
BAXTER: It felt good, but it wasn't easy. You had encouragement, too.
There were people that encouraged me. Some of my instructors really encouraged
me. And so you had to balance it for yourself, and you had to take that on
board and enjoy that and try to dismiss the other stuff that was happening.
Q: How early did you know, or what was the moment you knew hey, I can do
this, I can fly an airplane. Is there a certain breakthrough moment that
happens in primary for all beginning pilots?
BAXTER: Your training is so intense that if you reach that moment, you bypass it
pretty quickly. You don't have time to think about it.
Q: So what was the scariest part of primary for you? What was the big
hurdle moment for you in primary for you?
BAXTER: My first solo flight.
I was a little nervous. I think everyone reaches that point where they
wonder about can I do this or not. I was nervous about it.
Q: People always talk about primaries at the moment when there's a lot of
subjectivity in the grading. No, yes?
BAXTER: I don't think that there's that much subjectivity.
You know what you've gotta do. You know that you have to be able to land an
airplane. You know you have to deal with certain emergency procedures. All
the standards are pretty clear cut.
Q: Is there opportunity for an instructor to harass in that
BAXTER: Oh, yes. And in terms of what grade they want to give you, that can be
kind of subjective. If they're having a good day and they feel good, they
might be a little bit more generous with a grade, or if they're having a bad
day and somebody makes the same mistake that he has been seeing for the past
week, and he's just tired of seeing that mistake, he might come down a little
bit harder. That does happen.
Q: Did you ever feel you were unfairly graded because you were a
BAXTER: No, I think probably what happened is that I wasn't given information
because I was a woman. You can set the same standards for everybody and say
that yes, you need to be able to accomplish these tasks. But part of being a
flight instructor is instructing. And if the flight instructor omits certain
information and you go on to the next flight and you don't have that
information or you haven't been taught a certain skill, you can be set up to
Q: Do you feel that happened to you?
BAXTER: One flight, yes. I was supposed to get certain information on a
flight and it wasn't given to me. And I went on. That was the only down. I
got one down in flight training. That was the only time.
Q: So you got one down.
BAXTER: I got one down in flight training, and it was following a flight where I
was supposed to be taught certain things about maintaining a ... (inaudible)
log and how you do a cross country flight. And I don't know whether it's
because I was a woman. I think it was because the instructor I had at the time
didn't normally fly. He worked at another command. And I think it was just he
Q: So what year was this?
BAXTER: I think this was back in 1980.
Q: So no downsizing. We're heading toward Lehman's navy. A 600 ship
navy. Everything is on the upswing. So no one's feeling that their jobs are
threatened or anything by women pilots.
BAXTER: Not really. And at the time women were not allowed into the training
command or at the time women were not allowed to go directly into jet training
from primary. It was not open to us. If a guy wanted to go in the jets, he
finished primary, then he'd go to intermediate and advanced jet. If a woman
wanted to go to jet, she had to go to primary training, then either go to
helicopters or propeller training, get her wings, and then apply to go to jets
regardless of whether or not she had the grades to do it.
Q: So jets were not only combat oriented. You could fly jets that had
nothing to do with combat jets, like F14s whatever, huh? What are other jets
that a woman would fly at that time.
BAXTER: Right, they couldn't fly the F14s back then. They would fly adversary type
missions or they would be in a ferry squadron. You don't have too many
actually, you don't have any ferry squadrons any more. That's when you just
take an aircraft back and forth at different commands. Or you could possibly
go to the training commander, say the training commander and teach.
Q: In these early phases, do you feel there was a sort of socialization
process. Aside from learning to fly, was there a sort of way that you as a
woman were expected to be?
BAXTER: Well, you weren't supposed to be any certain way. As a woman, you were
supposed to be as a man. The socialization process the men obviously had a
certain idea of how men were supposed to be, and if you wanted to be in with
them, you had to give up certain feminine ways. You had to be able to take
jokes, make crass jokes, pretty much let things roll. You couldn't be
sensitive. You had to tough it out and you had to be like a man on the
Q: And were you that way?
BAXTER: Yes. I was indoctrinated, and it worked for a while.
Q: Describe yourself. Roxanne Baxter in those days--
BAXTER: Roxanne Baxter, with her flight bag and her boots on and her
flight suit on strutting up to the airplane, checking it out, looking tough.
Come back and depending on what job I was working at the time, put my feet, my
boots up on the desk and lay back in my chair and do my work or whatever.
Q: So you fit in, finally. You taught yourself to fit in?
BAXTER: I couldn't do it completely, it didn't work. I gave up a lot of
me to try to fit in, and that was wrong.
Q: When did you know that?
BAXTER: I think very late in my career. Very late.
Q: So you graduate from primary, you meet the test, you know how to do an
emergency, you know how to do a landing, you know how to [do] take-offs, you know
how to fly out on your quadrant, you've done a cross-country, you've done a
bunch of stuff, and you're a full-fledged graduate of primary. And then
where'd you go?
BAXTER: I flew the 244. The 228, that's a squadron. And that went pretty
well. I met my husband there. We were students together. That went fine.
Q: So you finished there, and that's where you and they make a
decision...what you're going to fly: helicopters, or crops is that
BAXTER: It was from primary.
Q: From primary, that's where you decide.
BAXTER: In a combo jet.
Q: You wanted to?
BAXTER: Yes, and I have the grades for it. I know that, grade-wise, they
calculate your grades, and I was above the minimum for jets.
Q: So nowadays, if you were in, you might have gotten that. It's probably
combat, the F-14.
BAXTER: I was just a little bit too early in the system.
Q: Would you have wanted the F-14?
BAXTER: Oh, yeah, yeah.
BAXTER: More rush! (Laughs.)
Q: You talk about this rush.... Now what is this rush? Describe it for
BAXTER: Adrenaline. You know what adrenaline is, it pumps you up, it charges
you up, hyper-alertness. Landing on an air-craft carrier takes just every
ounce of what you have, especially if you're doing it at night. When you're
done with a night-trap, your body is just drained, because you use every cell
Q: Describe coming in, for us. What are you thinking about? What do you
have to be thinking about.
BAXTER: The only thing you're thinking about is watching the ball--
That's the lens on the aircraft carrier that tells you whether you're high or
low, you're hawking your line-up, you're watching the angle of attack. Those
are the three big things. That's all you're doing, is you're eyes are just
going fast across those three things. To make sure they stay where they're
supposed to stay. And you don't have time to think about if you're scared or
if you're going to get on board. You don't have time to do that. You have to
put it all right into those three little things that you have to scan. When
you get done, then you become jelly a little bit.
Q: The first time you hit it? How scared were you?
BAXTER: I was scared. Yeah. At night. There was no moon. There was no
horizon. There were just three little things you were looking at. And you had
to get it just right, or you die. It was fun.
Q: Yeah, sounds fun.
BAXTER: It was! It was fun..
Q: Explain flying a COD.
BAXTER: The COD is a large cargo-aircraft; it lands in the aircraft
carrier. And our mission was to carry people out, to carry the aircraft parts
out for broken aircraft any other types of cargo. We'd bring up movies for the
ship, the mail. That was always pretty popular. They always wanted to know
how much mail you had on board when you checked in, and right before you
Q: You spent nights on ship and all of that.
BAXTER: Yes, I've done that a few times.
Q: So, in that sense, you were part of-- Well, I won't say male culture,
but certainly on the Enterprise it felt like a male kind of a place. Even now,
it felt very much like a mail joint. Yes?
Q: Why,would women want to be there?
BAXTER: It's not the environment so much, it's the job, it's the mission,
it's doing something that is just so totally interesting and unique and
challenging. It's the mission, it's not the place. The food's, it's okay. It's
not the reason you go out.
Q: We've talked about the rush of it all. However, we haven't talked
about the sort of patriotism, and the sort of serving your country. Is that
part of the equation for you?
BAXTER: Yes. But I think you lose sight of it sometimes, why you're doing it.
Especially in the peace-time role, it's difficult to keep sight of that. But
you do put up with a lot of hardships, and that is one of the reasons why you
do it. It's for the patriotism.
Q: Describe it from your perspective. What was it like, the Navy in the
BAXTER: In the '80s, you had enough money to do your mission. You had enough
money to stay proficient. You had enough money to do training. You had enough
money to do the things that you needed to do to carry out your mission. You
don't have to be as creative in how you use your resources.
Towards the '90s, the money kind of disappeared. You had to cut back, you had
to really weigh what you were doing in terms of benefits, cost-benefit
analysis. You had to really stretch your dollars. You didn't get the flight
hours that you needed. It hurt when the money went away.
Q: Really a different place by the early '90s?
BAXTER: Yes. Yes. When I came in, it was around 1977, 1978. And it was a very
different Navy than what I left.
Q: In what sense?
BAXTER: Well, the finances that support the military; those were the biggies. The
other thing that changed was the social structure, in terms of how men treated
women, how women treated men. You had some good things that came about, but
you also had some bad things come about. Back when I was an infant in the
Navy, at a party, if a male officer encountered somebody who was a hooker, a
professional, he would still treat her like a lady. When I left the military,
women who were not hookers were being treated like they weren't ladies. You
had that change, there.
Q: Roxanne, what do you chalk that up to? That's a huge sea change.
BAXTER: That's a big change.
I would have to say that something in our socialization, when we're growing
Q: You look sort of pained in your eyes in a way you haven't for the last
BAXTER: I think some of it is a type of backlash. To use a popular phrase.
Where men who have been socialized a certain way that women aren't supposed to
be doing these male things, now that when they are doing it, it's almost as if
there's a hidden message as well: You deserve this, or you've earned this, or
what'd you expect, coming into our male world.
And a lot of men really think like that. That's the part that really disturbs
me. There's no more personal responsibility that I came into the military, I'm
supposed to be an officer and a gentleman. It's almost as if the burden's on
you and not on they themselves for accountability.