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Until every one comes home | The Magazine of the USO

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All social change is forged by those with a pioneering spirit—those who are unafraid to topple barriers or lay the groundwork for future generations. While history is full of examples of women’s triumphs, each pioneer has an individual story worth telling. Retired Brigadier General Allison Hickey is one such pioneer. 

Brigadier General Allison Hickey (Ret.) - then Cadet Second Class Allison Hilsman - is seen at the 1978 Air Force-Notre Dame football game. Courtesy photo via AFNewsBrigadier General Allison Hickey (Ret.) - then Cadet Second Class Allison Hilsman - is seen at the 1978 Air Force-Notre Dame football game. Courtesy photo via AFNewsHickey credits her interest in military service to her upbringing. The daughter of an Army officer, retired Lieutenant General Bill Hilsman, she spent her childhood moving from post to post. Her deep respect for her parents and her migratory lifestyle compelled her to combine her patriotic devotion with her interest in working with military people. 

During her sophomore and junior years of high school, she began to question those around her about the possibility of attending one of the military service academies, none of which were yet accessible to women. 

Realizing his daughter’s dream of attending a service academy was not a passing fancy, her father invited a fellow Army officer—a woman—to their home. 

“She told me not to give up on my dreams and purpose, that there were things happening right now that might one day let me fulfill that dream,” Hickey said.

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Not long after, in October 1975, President Gerald Ford signed Public Law 94-106 authorizing women the right to attend all military service academies. 

Hickey recalls opening the door of her Fort Lewis, Washington, home to get the morning paper and seeing the headline announcing President Ford had granted women access into the service academies. For her, a new adventure had just begun. 

Hickey during her Air Force career. DOD photoHickey during her Air Force career. DOD photoAfter applying to the Merchant Marine Academy, West Point and the Air Force Academy, General Hickey’s next hurdle was to earn a sufficiently high score on the SAT to qualify for entry. 

While running on the parade field at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, one afternoon during her senior year, Hickey’s sister came dashing up to let her know Representative James Howard (D-N.J.) was on the phone waiting to speak to her. 

“He told me that he did not have a West Point invitation to give me, but he did have one for the Air Force Academy,” she said. “The catch was I had to give him my answer right on the spot. That moment sure tested the concept of ‘jumping in with everything you’ve got.’” 

Hickey is now Under Secretary for Benefits at the Department of Veterans Affairs.Hickey is now Under Secretary for Benefits at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In June 1976, Hickey, along with 156 other women, entered the U.S. Air Force Academy as its first female cadets.

During her initial years at the academy many individuals left a lasting impression on her, but the women involved in the academy’s mentor program for the newly enrolled young women had one of the greatest impacts. The program consisted of 15 female lieutenants handpicked to be air training officers for the new women cadets. 

“They were our mentors, confidants, advisors and accountability partners,” Hickey said.

She believes they are perhaps the greatest unsung heroes during that time of change. The impact of these leaders affected her deeply. 

“They are wonderful, wonderful women.”

The contents of Brigadier General (Ret.) Allison Hickey’s story were curated from a March 14, 2007, AFNews article.