Jane Davies, a first-generation American, wasn’t accustomed to the word “can’t.”
But as a freshman engineering major at the University of Connecticut’s Waterbury campus, the glass ceiling crashed hard, thanks to one pontificating professor.
“On the first day, there were 10 women in the class [Introduction to Engineering], and after he made his pronouncement — and it was quite a long pronouncement — the gist was, ‘You don’t belong here.’
‘The next morning,” Davies recalled, “there were two of us in the class. It was the first time someone had ever told me I couldn’t do something.”
Not much else has stopped Davies since, especially in Civil Air Patrol.
“I was very lucky in Civil Air Patrol that I had a lot of great mentors, not only in the squadron, but at wing headquarters,” Davies said.
Her CAP journey began in 1969 with a neighborhood shopping trip and some motherly advice.
“We were going to the grocery store and there were some cadets there,” she said. “They were selling items to raise funds. My mother saw them and started asking questions.”
After quizzing the cadets, Ursula Reichardt, an immigrant from Germany in love with her adopted homeland from the moment she and husband Hans arrived in 1953, turned to her daughter.
“This is an organization you need to belong to,” she said.
A few weeks later, the teen-ager joined the Gen. Curtis E. LeMay Cadet Squadron in Wallingford, near the family’s home in Prospect. Fifty-three years on, her CAP journey continues. She‘s director of operations for the National Capital Wing, which she previously commanded.
Davies’ CAP career has taken her to leadership positions in not only the National Capital Wing but also Alabama, Connecticut, Maryland, California, and Missouri.
Davies has earned numerous awards and honors, including multiple medals, ribbons, and commendations.
But the award she’s proudest of came as a cadet.
“My most favorite award up to this day was when as a cadet technical sergeant, I was awarded the wing Public Affairs Officer of the Year.
“It’s still my most favorite award, because I was the very first cadet to have ever received an award like that. It was just a tribute to how senior members worked with cadets back then.”
With Women’s History Month on the calendar, Davies reflected on the legacy of women in CAP. Just a few years before she joined in 1969, female cadets were referred to as “cadettes.” Much has changed, with women holding command positions at all levels of the organization.
“I guess I was lucky early on in that … the squadron I belonged to, the senior members believed you pulled your own weight, and you had the opportunity to do whatever you want,” she said.“We were all working together, even though we were in separate flights and things weren’t coed. When it came to running the unit, participating in events, everyone was equal, but the [regulations] said females would be in a separate flight.”
As early as the late 1960s and early 1970s, Davies’ cadet commander was female. Founded in 1966, the LeMay Composite squadron by 1970 could boast three recipients of the Gen. Carl A. Spaatz Award – CAP’s top cadet honor, achieved by less than one-half of 1% of youth members.
“Everybody was equal,” Davies said. “If you wanted to get ahead, you had to work for it. I was used to that environment long before it became popular.”
And the environment in Civil Air Patrol?
“Within CAP, you were judged by what you contribute,” she said. “I never experienced (discrimination) until I hit the private sector, or workforce or school, or things like that – never within Civil Air Patrol.”
Others echo her experience.
“I have spoken to some women who felt the same way,” Davies said. “It was never in Civil Air Patrol, because we have a mission, and we are performing it. But it’s been outside of that in the workplace and in schools where I have felt a little different, because I was a woman, and later as a military spouse.
“But in Civil Air Patrol, it was my experience and rank.”
She is married to retired U.S. Army Col. John Davies, who served for “29 years, three months and 10 day,” before retiring two years after 9/11. Stationed at the Pentagon that fateful day, John Davies received the Soldier’s Medal for his heroism. Twenty-six people in his department lost their lives to terrorism that day.
“It was a sad time. We went to a lot of funerals and memorials,” Jane Davies recalled.
The couple met through Civil Air Patrol. John Davies was a cadet in another squadron and assisted on wing staff in cadet programs. She was a cadet in another squadron. Their first date was a CAP Christmas Ball in New Britain, Connecticut.
The couple will have been married for 48 years in April. She recalls being smitten after seeing him recognized as Connecticut Wing Cadet of the Year at a wing awards presentation. “I was so impressed by his confidence,” Davies said.
In Army retirement, John Davies resumed his service as a senior CAP member. A CAP lieutenant colonel, he’s National Capital Wing chief of staff and director of logistics.
“He’s done very well,” she said.
As the demands on CAP increase, Davies believes the cooperation between the organization and the Federal Emergency Management Agency will continue to strengthen. As technology advances, so does CAP’s role. Davies has been a witness to those changes, recalling days when a plane crash and the ensuing search meant a weeklong mission.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes,” she said. “I like the direction we’re going in. It’s something we can train our members to do easily and effectively. But it’s still a mission that people need to train for, give their time, and go do.”
Over her Civil Air Patrol career and in her work life, Davies has had a simple mantra: “What can I do to make it easier for other people? What can we do to make it easier so that you can do your job; so, you can do your mission? That’s pretty much how I still feel.”
And even with all her achievements in leadership and in rank Davies takes her greatest satisfaction in small ways. She’s had an impact on some 280 cadets at 11 National Flight Academies, with many obtaining their student or private pilot certificates, and senior members in advanced leadership schools she’s taught who went on to become wing commanders, for example.
But sometimes affirmation comes in simple ways.
Sometimes she receives a note or is stopped by someone who says, “Because of you, I was able to do this.” Newly minted private pilots now training to become military aviators may send a note of thanks, too.
“That,” Davies said, “is the reward.”
This profile of Col. Jane Davies is 10th in a regular series of articles showcasing how CAP and its members make an impact throughout the nation.