QUITO – Maria Cueva and Jazmin Perez made history on Friday, becoming the first female combat pilots in the history of Ecuador’s air force.
“The path in the armed forces is long, but this is a step that’s been taken, a door opening, and tomorrow I want there to be many more women who make the journey,” Lt. Cueva, 26, told EFE hours ahead of the graduation ceremony at Manta air base.
For Cueva and 28-year-old Lt. Perez, the ceremony marked the culmination of a process that began with four years of study at the air force academy, followed by working hard to qualify for the Combat-Ready 2 course at Manta.
For the last year, the two women and six male colleagues have combined classroom instruction with 120 hours of hands-on training: 40 in a flight simulator and 80 hours in the air.
“We are prepared for countless kinds of missions, but our country is at peace and we have as our goal to maintain defense on missions of internal security,” Cueva said.
Ecuador’s last external conflict was in early 1995, the “Cenepa War,” and the air force played a heroic role in that struggle with Peru over a disputed 78km (49mi) stretch of their shared border.
On Feb. 10, 1995, four Ecuadorian air force fighters took on an equal number of technically superior Peruvian planes over the Cenepa region of the Condor Mountains, downing three of the enemy aircraft.
A provisional cease-fire came at the end of February and the two nations signed a permanent peace accord in October 1998.
Nearly 25 years later, the challenges faced by the Ecuadorian military are far different, and Lt. Cueva told EFE that she expects most of her missions to focus on thwarting drug traffickers, monitoring the border with Colombia and providing security for vital energy installations.
The graduation ceremony included an exhibition of flying skills by the newly minted combat aviators in front of the attentive gaze of the air force commander, Lt. Gen. Mauricio Campuzano.
By virtue of her outstanding performance as a cadet, Cueva was designated as the senior officer among the trainees. “The relationship with the male personnel is quite equitable and I’ve always had the respect of my colleagues,” she said.
Regarding her personal life, she has no plans to marry and start a family in the near future.
“This career demands a lot of time and the physiological condition of pregnancy would not allow me to continue as an active pilot,” Cueva said.
While the Ecuadorian air force has around a dozen other women pilots, they are all assigned to transport and rescue squadrons.
“My comrade Jazmin and I are very grateful and we know that the military high command is watching us. Many people have placed their hopes in us and we will not disappoint them,” Cueva said.