Women in the Caribbean: Curaçao Counter-Drug Operation

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News Article / June 22, 2021

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By Major Angela Hudson, 964th Expeditionary Airborne Air Control Squadron

It is a rare military operation where the composition of female service members reaches 20%. Even rarer is when those 20% occupy key leadership roles. Yet, this is precisely what took place this past March, during the 2021 Counter-Drug Operational deployment to the Caribbean. Coalition service members from both Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, and Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, joined together at Forward Operating Location (FOL) Curaçao.

FOL Curaçao was established in 2000 as a result of a multilateral agreement between the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the United States, whereby aircraft and crews deploy to the FOL on a temporary basis to conduct counter-drug operations. The United States continue to be grateful to the people and Government of Curaçao for their support of this mission and our ongoing partnership in assisting international efforts to combat global narcotics trafficking.

The operation was spearheaded by Royal Canadian Air Force Major Angela Hudson, the 964th Expeditionary Airborne Air Control Squadron Commander, in conjunction with U.S. Air Force Major Kristen Rosenberg, Forward Operating Location Curaçao & Aruba Detachment 2 Director of Operations. Majors Hudson and Rosenberg were joined by a primarily female leadership team consisting of Capt Carley Gross and Capt Elizabeth Hicks, KC-135 and E-3 Pilots respectively, as well as Master Sgt Esther Bass, FOL Security Forces NCOIC, First Sgt Rose Marie Tamba, and Senior Enlisted Aircrew Member Master Sgt Latisha Russell, as they led over 130 troops in the execution of the Counter-Drug Operation in the South America, Central America, and the Caribbean region.

International Women’s Day marked a poignant opportunity to recognize the value these women provide to both the Canadian and United States’ Air Forces and their direct role in this operation’s success. They gathered together on the morning of March 8th to recognize the momentous occasion and celebrate each other’s successes.

At a Women, Peace and Security online event called Empowered Women Help Create a More Peaceful World: How the U.S. Government Can Leverage the Women, Peace, Security Agenda to Advance Gender Equality and Promote Peace held on March 29, 2021, US Navy Admiral Craig S. Faller, Commander, United States Southern Command, spoke about his experience witnessing the increase in his crew’s combat effectiveness and credibility as a force when women were integrated on the naval ship he sailed.

“While progress has been made,” Faller stated, “not enough progress has been done.” He went on to note that, “the strength of our societies can and must be reflected inside our formations.” His comments were echoed by numerous other leaders who emphasized that women remain an underrepresented and an underutilized gender.

The US Congress passed Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017, which codifies these same comments, from which the Department of Defense developed key strategy objectives in 2020. Objective number one aims to “seek and support the preparation and meaningful participation of women around the world in decision-making processes related to conflict and crisis.” Ambassador Jean Manes, who holds the Women, Peace, and Security Portfolio at United States Southern Command, highlights one main effort is to “make the invisible, visible.”

The successes of this group of impeccable airmen and women involved in this deployment symbolize the culmination of efforts at the very top of the military. These women represent precisely the continued improvement of female representation that Admiral Faller spoke about. 

As part of the re-occurring operations from FOL Curaçao in 2021, the E-3 AWACS and the KC-135 flew aid in the seizure of over 272 kilograms of illegal narcotics.

Their efforts are not done in isolation. Throughout the year, AWACS is joined by efforts from the US Navy, Coast Guard, and Customs and Border Protection maritime division, as well as the Drug Enforcement Administration, maximizing interagency operability for this mission. All agencies involved in this mission provide intelligence and operations support as part of Joint Interagency Task Force – South, which oversees and coordinates efforts. The United States, Canada, and twenty other partnering nations have a long history of combining efforts with the aim of disrupting the flow of illegal narcotics from the South America, Central American, and the Caribbean region.

These women are critical in the interdiction and disruption of illicit narcotics distribution and are a powerful image of the ever evolving nature of women’s influence in the global sphere, directly aligning with the Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017 and the United States Department of Defense strategy. As captured by Major Hudson, “We represent peacekeepers and peacemakers, and we remain committed to the furtherance of women, global peace and security.”


The women involved included: Maj Angela Hudson, Maj Kristen Rosenberg, Capt Carley Gross, Capt Elizabeth Hicks, 1st Lt Ashley Morgan, 1st Lt Erika Santos, 1st Lt Leah Teh, Master Sgt Esther Bass, Master Sgt Latisha Russell, Master Sgt Rose Marie Tamba, Tech Sgt Natalie Trosper, Staff Sgt Georgie Busbee, Staff Sgt Tayler Crichlow, Staff Sgt Megan Harter, Staff Sgt Victoria Heitkamp, Staff Sgt Breanna Talford, Staff Sgt Samantha Zahn, Senior Airman Willey Kennedy, Senior Airman Kelsey Kerker, Airman 1st Class Diana Barcenas, Airman 1st Class Krista Carbo, Airman 1st Class Alexandra Lehmann, Airman 1st Class Shartavia Oaks, Airman 1st Class Cecile Rodriguez, Airman 1st Class Savannah Whitaker,  and Airman 1st Class Kalia Woodhead.




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