by Nicole Thom-Arens | Submitted Photos
When Margaret Ingerslew started her B-52 career in 2011, she was a new mom to Andersen, and that made her an anomaly in the bomber community. The advice she had received as a young married female officer was to delay having children until she was out of the Air Force or in a nonflying position, so she and husband Seth agreed to wait a few years before starting their family. But life didn’t go according to plan.
“We moved when Andersen was about two weeks old, and I started the formal training unit for the B-52, and I showed up, and I was the girl who had a kid. They didn’t know my name. They didn’t know anything except I was the girl who had a kid,” Margaret recalls.
She had done the one thing she had been advised not to do, but Margaret knew herself and her abilities and excelled in the program just as she had in flight school. In 2012, the young family moved to Minot Air Force Base, where Margaret continued her career as a Weapon Systems Officer (WSO pronounced “wizzo”). Four months after arriving, Margaret was deployed to Guam. Four weeks later, she found out she was pregnant with her second child, Madeline.
“After we got moved to Minot, and I was going to deploy, I had said, ‘I just want to get my name in the squadron, I want to get a deployment under my belt, I want to kind of get established before I’m taken out of the jet,’ and that was our plan. We joke that we just can’t say things out loud,” Margaret remembers.
For decades women weren’t allowed to fly in bombers because they simply weren’t allowed in combat situations, so when Margaret became pregnant, the Air Force didn’t have a plan to keep her from falling behind her peers.
“I honestly thought about getting out of the military, because of my experience with Madeline. I could tell my career definitely took a hit for it. When your primary job is to drop weapons from an airplane, and you can’t physically fly due to pregnancy being a medical condition, you’re out of the jet for ultimately a year,” Margaret explains. “You’re out of your job—your profession—for a year. The way you are promoted and do well as a flyer in the Air Force is by flying. It’s like I went to work for a year, but it didn’t look like I was working. I basically did two years of flying in one deployment to bring me back up to where my peer group was.”
She stresses that she asked for this arrangement. Once she decided to stay in the Air Force, she was determined to compete with her peers, a reality with which many mothers in professional fields can relate.
“I love my children, and I love my job, so I never want to say no when there’s a fun flight or a fun mission or an experience that I can go on. You don’t want to say no, but you have other commitments,” Margaret explains while discussing the balance of being a mom and a professional. “You’re always getting pulled in one way, and you don’t know always when to give more here or take more there, and so it’s just a constant internal battle.”
The Air Force, though, is beginning to develop a better plan for women who, like Margaret, don’t want to wait to become mothers.
“They have a sabbatical that you can apply for. You could take up to three years off and be a stay-at-home mom if that’s what you want to do, and then you come back to active duty after those three years are up and it simply pauses wherever you left off,” Margaret explains.
This would have been an option for Margaret when she and Seth welcomed their third child, Scarlet, in 2016—something Margaret said Andersen and Madeline foresaw.
“It was like their lives were not complete. They just needed a little sister named ‘Sugar Plum’ forever. Andersen loves to tell that story. He’s like, ‘Well, I knew what our family needed,’” Margaret recalls. “We might not have planned it exactly this way, but this is exactly what it’s supposed to be.”
Margaret decided not to pause her career. She enjoyed a traditional maternity leave and went back to work. In 2017, she was promoted to major and was one of two WSOs selected for Striker Vista, a program designed to increase the breadth of knowledge within the bomber community. The family recently settled in Rapid City, South Dakota, where Margaret is currently a B-1 WSO.
Nicole Thom-Arens is a writer and an assistant professor of communication arts at Minot State University where she teaches journalism and communication theory courses and advises the student newspaper the Red & Green.