As Kenya celebrates its fifty years since independence, Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) has not been left behind either. The KDF celebrates Women who have been part of their larger fraternity since its inception and particularly in the Kenya Air Force. The following prolific Air Force women officers and servicewomen have given the service a new image putting a mark in all aspects of job performance, training and trade spectra. In an interview conducted at Moi Air Base (MAB) on 26 November 2013, the women agreed to share their lives and experiences as men and women serving in the KDF.
Major Benardatte Kikech was enlisted into the KDF as a cadet in the year 2002 after graduating from the University of Nairobi. She attended the Armed Forces Training College (AFTC) currently Kenya Military Academy (KMA) for basic military training and on commissioning Major Kikech went to Defence Forces Technical College (DEFTEC) where her journey as a technical officer begun. She has done several overseas Helicopter specialization courses from USA, South Africa and Russia.
Major Kikech has served in various positions in the helicopter maintenance squadron. She is currently the Officer Commanding MI-171E Helicopter Maintenance Squadron at Moi Air Base, hence becoming the first outstanding female officer commanding a squadron in the Kenya Air Force. As a lady in uniform, she faces various challenges especially for being a lady in command of the maintenance squadron which comprises 99% men. She offers encouragement to young girls who aspire to join the KDF to do so as it gives women equal opportunities to excel.
Major Norah Koech joined the KDF in 2001 as a cadet and attended AFTC. She was commissioned in 2003 upon completion of her basic military training. She later joined Flying Training School (FTS) at MAB and graduated on 15 September 2006 thus becoming the first female pilot in the Kenya Air Force. Major Koech is currently an operational pilot in the Y-12 aircraft, an aircraft that was very significant during Operation Linda Nchi. She now confidently boasts of 9 years vast experience of flying out of the 11 years that she has served in the military. She acknowledges the significance of celebrating all civilian men who have married women in uniform and termed them as “our silent heroes”. She also notes that the future is bright for ladies in the military; encouraging those who wish to join military that it is a place for achieving careers.
Kenya Air Force service women have not been left behind either by their women counterparts who are officers. Sergeant Linner Chebet shared her journey in the military and especially as a technician under Dash-8 engineering squadron, a field mostly dominated by men. Sergeant Chebet was enlisted to the KDF in 2002 and on completion of her basic military training was posted to DEFTEC where she studied Aeronautical engineering (electrical and instrumentals option). After graduating as a class one technician, she was posted to Moi Air Base technical wing under the Dash-8 squadron.
Sergeant Chebet is charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the aircraft, which mostly carry the Commander in Chief of defence forces, VIPs among other senior passengers, is serviceable at all times and is fit to fly. The servicing includes before flight, turn round and after flight. Though all sounded smooth from her narration, she admits facing some challenges especially when an aircraft develops a snag that requires a lot of thinking and an assistant to help in brainstorming like following up on a wiring diagram. In her parting shot, she encouraged ladies already in the military and aspiring to join KDF that “what a man can do, women can do better”.
Under the Bufallo aircraft squadron, Corporal Ann Mbaluka highlighted her experience for being a lady and as a soldier at the same time. She joined the KDF in 2001 and after completion of basic military training at Recruits Training School in Eldoret, she was posted to MAB technical wing. Later she joined DEFTEC and undertook Aeronautical Engineering (telecommunication option). Her daily task is to perform first line and second line servicing before flight, after flight and turnaround servicing.
Whenever we see the Kenya Air Force aircrafts flying up high be it during operations, National events, transporting personnel and logistics among other day to day duties, we have the Air Force women officers and servicewomen to thank. Through their various efforts the motto of the Kenya Air Force “Tuko Imara Angani” is succefully achieved and fulfilled.