‘I choose to be bold:’ AOC commander advocates for women in leadership

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jennifer Zima
  • Ninth Air Force (Air Forces Central) Public Affairs

Women in the military have been breaking barriers since long before the birth of the U.S. Air Force in 1947. Each year, Women’s Equality Day on Aug. 26 marks the 1920 adoption of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting women the right to vote. 

Col. Julie Sposito-Salceies has made history as the first female commander of the 609th Air Operations Center (AOC) when she took command on June 2. Her connection to the AOC, this base, and this area of responsibility goes back to the early beginning of Al Udeid AB.

“I was here when it was Camp Andy back in the early 2000s,” said Sposito-Salceies. “I brought the 609th AOC from Prince Sultan Air Base AB to Qatar, when I was in combat plans as a master air attack plan planner and combat ops as an E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System liaison officer. I watched the current building be built. In this location, I was in combat plans as command and control plans chief. I have done time in almost all divisions and AFCENT Staff operations air staff.”

The AOC is the senior element of the theater air control system that allows the Combined Force Air Component Commander the ability to provide operational level command and control of the coalition and joint air component. The 609th AOC began as the 609th Air Operations Group in 1994 at Shaw AFB and moved to Al Udeid.

Before assuming command of the AOC in 2023, Sposito-Salceies had an extensive military career that was inspired by her parents, who met and served in the U.S. Air Force. Sposito-Salceies began her military journey as a Reserve Officer Training Corps cadet at Penn State University. She became an Air Battle Manager, flew JSTARS aircraft, instructed at the weapons school at Nellis AFB, and graduated and taught at the U.S. Army War College.

“I enjoyed working at the Army War College where I inherited the Women, Peace and Security Program for my department,” said Sposito-Salceies referring to a policy framework that recognizes that women must be critical actors in all efforts to achieve sustainable international peace and security. “I focused WPS as more of an operational tool for senior leaders and commanders. 

I taught how conflict impacts gender, and how, if we looked at plans through this additional lens, we could create more effective plans from combat to humanitarian assistance,” she said. “I brought WPS into operational design, security cooperation, and humanitarian assistance and disaster preparedness.”

When Sposito-Salceies met the first group of Qatari women air space controllers, she had the opportunity to interact with other groundbreaking women in the country where she currently works. 

“To see how far Qatar is coming is an inspiration and immensely commendable,” said Sposito-Salceies. “They are excited to have women in these careers and thrive on how different women think. It was a great experience to see the women and men come so far.”

Despite the U.S. Air Force leading the way as being the military branch with the highest female representation, women are still a minority in the military, especially in senior positions. Sposito-Salceies advocates for having more women in leadership roles.

“I am the first [female] 609th AOC commander,” said Sposito-Salceies. “I am excited and think it is well overdue. I love the 609th AOC. I have put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into this unit. I look forward to the future to continue to improve the institution. I choose to be bold, be unapologetically me, and to take care of the Airmen, joint, coalition, and partner nations in this AOC.”