Celebrating Women: Stacy Uttecht’s journey to commanding officer of Navy F/A-18 squadron


VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — This Women’s History Month, 10 On Your Side is shining a light on those who’ve soared to new heights.

With such a deep history of the Navy in Hampton Roads, it is important to meet the woman in charge of hundreds of sailors, nearly $100 million worth of equipment, and the second female commanding officer of an F/A-18 squadron.

Commander Stacy Uttecht currently serves as Commanding Officer of VFA-32.

“The Fighting Swordsmen” and at the helm of about 220 sailors and 12 aircraft based out of NAS Oceana. 

“It literally is the best job in the Navy, probably actually the best job in the world to think that I’m 40 years old and I work on making sure we are ready to go on deployment when our time is called,” said Commander Uttecht. 

“It is a pretty awesome responsibility.”

Commander Uttecht is the second female to be the commanding officer of an F/A-18 squadron in United States history. 

“I am actually the only female officer in the current squadron, but it doesn’t matter, gender doesn’t play a role in it, the jet doesn’t care if you are male or female, and the enemy doesn’t care if you are male or female,” said Commander Uttecht. 

Commander Uttecht has always had the ‘flying bug’ and it started when she was child as her father was a private pilot. 

“I remember being flown around when I was very little, in West Texas just getting bumped around in little Cessnas, and I just thought seeing the earth from a different prospective was just so neat.”

Her grandfather is a Navy veteran and he flew F86’s for the Air Force during the Korean War. This kicked her interest in flying up a notch and in high school, her decision was made, she would fly for the military. She was commissioned in January 2000 and in January 2018 she became the commanding officer of the squadron. 

“I thought that was going to be the highlight of my career.”

That was until she took part in a flyover at her alma mater of Virginia Tech. 

“I thought that was going to be the highlight of my career.”

Fast forward to 2018, and Commander Uttecht participated in the flyover for the late President George H.W. Bush.

“Thought that was going to be the highlight.”

However, most recently, she had the honor of leading an all female fly-over to honor Captain Rosemary Mariner.

“That literally has taken the cake on the most amazing experience I’ve been able to be a part of.”

Commander Uttecht credits Mariner for paving the way for women in this position. She was a pioneer in naval aviation, but passed away on Jan. 24 after battling cancer, according to the Navy. 

The Navy says Mariner was also the first female military aviator to achieve command of an operational air squadron, leading Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron Thirty-Four (VAQ-34) during Operation Desert Storm.

Mariner was among the first women to serve aboard the USS Lexington in 1982 and qualified as a surface warfare officer. She retired in 1997 as a captain after logging 17 carrier arrested landings, or “traps,” and completing over 3,500 flight hours in 15 different aircraft, the Navy says.

“When I joined the Navy in 2000, no one ever told me no, no one ever told me I couldn’t fly jets, no one ever told me I couldn’t be a commanding officer of a squadron, and it’s because of pioneers like Rosemary Mariner.”

There are more female aviators than when Commander Uttecht joined. According to the Navy, as of January 2019, there were nearly 66,835 active duty woman and nearly 269,702 active duty men in service. 

“People understand that there are no barriers, you can do whatever you want if you set your mind to it.”

According to the Navy, Commander Uttecht has logged over 3,500 flight hours and more than 300 carrier arrested landings.

Her personal awards include a Meritorious Service Medal, Strike Flight Air Medals (10 awards), Joint Commendation Medal, Navy Commendation Medal, Navy-Marine Corps Achievement Medals (2 awards), and numerous other campaign and unit awards.

“You are part of something bigger than yourself and you have to focus on the mission.”

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