‘The path less travelled’: Carskadon reflects on being one of two percent of women in the military

Carskadon recently retired as a colonel, but along the way, the Air Force allowed her to save lives, inspired her to start her own business and connected her with her husband, Bruce.

Linda Carskadon

During the Vietnam War, Linda Carskadon thought it was unfair that only men were expected to serve the country.

“I thought, ‘Surely there’s things that women can do,’” Carskadon said.

At the time she joined the Air Force, Carskadon was one of only 2 percent of women in the military. Carskadon recently retired as a colonel, but along the way, the Air Force allowed her to save lives, inspired her to start her own business and connected her with her husband, Bruce.

Carskadon grew up in Havertown, Pa. Two of her friends died in Vietnam while she was in high school, and their deaths made Carskadon want to do something more to help. Inspired by her uncle who was in the Navy ROTC program at Villanova, Carskadon got in her head she would join the Navy as well.

She ultimately attended Villanova. At the time, women were only allowed to enroll in either the nursing or engineering programs. Carskadon knew she didn’t want to be an engineer, so she pursued the nursing program.

Upon graduating, Carskadon went to work in a hospital, but it didn’t feel like the right fit.

“I just wanted something more,” Carskadon said. “I wanted to do something to support our boys.”

At the time, Carskadon was getting postcards in the mail encouraging her to join the Air Force and “come work in a flying hospital.” So, she joined.

Carskadon went in as an officer, and after two weeks of officer orientation and six weeks of flight nurse training, she started working in the aeromedical evacuation field. Carskadon worked as a flight nurse travelling to the Philippines and bringing back wounded soldiers.

There were no doctors aboard the planes, so the flight nurses were entirely responsible for the patients’ well-being and safety during the long flights to bases in Hawaii and California. She said they only learned what patients they were flying two hours before any mission, so they only had a short span of time to prepare for any contingency.

Because the Vietnam War was unfolding at the time, Carskadon transported soldiers whose injuries ran the gamut. She said there were amputees who lost limbs to blast injuries, patients with head trauma and numerous soldiers with severe psychiatric trauma.

“When we would land, they knew they had hit United States and there would be clapping and crying,” Carskadon said.

On the long flights, the nurses would dispense medications, give treatments, help patients to the bathroom and generally oversee the soldiers’ well-being.

“We had to function as our own resource without having a doctor on board; we had to draw on everything we knew,” Carskadon said.

As one of few women in the Air Force at the time, Carskadon said she saw a fair share of prejudice against women in the military. She said there were older men who encouraged officers not to salute her and her fellow officers, but she didn’t let it deter her. She said she’s always been attracted to “the path less travelled,” and being a woman in the military exemplified that.

She met her husband, Bruce, on her first flight of which he was the pilot. She said she never wanted to marry a pilot. She joked most were quite full of themselves, but after their first flight, her husband asked if she wanted to join him for dinner. She said he had a shy way about him and something told her to give him a chance. The rest was history.

Carskadon joined the Air Force reserves after leaving active duty where she did the majority of her aerovac missions. She and Bruce moved to Moorestown 39 years ago to be close to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.

She started her own company working as a medical legal analyst in 1990. She had been asked to work for SmithKline at the time and was acting as a consultant for cases in its product safety department. She said she enjoyed the work so much she decided to branch out and start her own business.

After 30 years in the military, Carskadon retired as a colonel. She was a flight nurse instructor for 26 of those years. She wanted to stay in touch with her military roots, so she joined Moorestown’s William H. Snyder American Legion Post 42, which she is involved in to this day.