The Air Force is modifying its song to be more inclusive of women

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The Air Force Academy mascot, The Bird, skates with the Air Force flag shortly before faceoff on Feb. 17, 2020 (Air Force photo/Trevor Cokley)

The Air Force Academy mascot, The Bird, skates with the Air Force flag shortly before faceoff on Feb. 17, 2020 (Air Force photo/Trevor Cokley)

In 1938, before the U.S. Air Force was even its own branch of the military, Liberty magazine sponsored a contest where readers could submit ideas for what should be the official song of the Army Air Corps.

At the last minute, a musician and amateur pilot named Robert Crawford (who purchased a plane for himself so he could get to his concert gigs more easily), sent in “Off We Go,” which the selection committee — made up of Army Air Corps wives, according to the Library of Congress — unanimously selected as the best in the bunch.

That song became the Air Force’s official anthem, and while it was selected by women, it did not recognize the service and achievements of female airmen until today, when Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein updated the lyrics to do so.

“These new lyrics speak more accurately to all we do, all that we are and all that we strive to be as a profession of arms,” Goldfein wrote in a statement on Thursday. "They add proper respect and recognition to everyone who serves and who has served. This respect and recognition is not only appropriate, it is fully earned.”

Specifically, the changes apply to the third verse of the song, which used to go like this:

Here's a toast to the host
Of those who love the vastness of the sky,
To a friend we send a message of his brother men who fly.
We drink to those who gave their all of old,
Then down we roar to score the rainbow's pot of gold.
A toast to the host of men we boast, the U.S. Air Force!

Now the verse reads like this (changes emphasized):

Here's a toast to the host
Of those who love the vastness of the sky,
To a friend we send a message of the brave who serve on high.
We drink to those who gave their all of old,
Then down we roar to score the rainbow's pot of gold.
A toast to the host of those we boast, the U.S. Air Force!

Goldfein said the change is long overdue. A graduate of the Air Force Academy, Goldfein pointed out that the other service academies, Annapolis and West Point, updated their alma maters to be gender neutral in 2004 and 2008, respectively.

“It is time for us to change,” Goldfein wrote.

U.S. Air Force Academy cadets dance and sing fight songs in the stadium tunnel before a football game versus San Jose State in Colorado Springs, Colo., Sept. 27, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Dennis Hoffman)

U.S. Air Force Academy cadets dance and sing fight songs in the stadium tunnel before a football game versus San Jose State in Colorado Springs, Colo., Sept. 27, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Dennis Hoffman)

Still, the changes represent only one verse of the four-verse Air Force song, the the other three of which still include plenty of male-only references such as “At ‘em boys, Give ‘er the gun/Minds of men fashioned a crate of thunder/hands of men blasted the world asunder/souls of men dreaming of skies to conquer/flying men, guarding the nation’s border.”

Goldfein signaled that changes may come to those lyrics too.

“[W]e’ll also take a hard look at whether further updates may be warranted for the other verses of the song,” the general wrote.

Goldfein hinted at additional changes during a fireside chat at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium on Thursday. The initial change was meant “to open a conversation here, which I want to have over the next few months, to update the first verse,” he said.

“I can tell you a number of stories of women who have been given the gun, throughout the ages really, but especially most recently as all combat positions are open,” Goldfein added. “I think it’s an important discussion for us to have.”

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright, who also attended the symposium, echoed Goldfein’s thoughts, saying that the song change could inspire individual unit commanders to reevaluate their traditions.

“We talk a lot about diversity and inclusion,” he said. “We have to talk about those traditions that are written and un-written, and they don’t have to be big Air Force traditions but traditions that are within your squadrons, within your groups, within your wings that might be unintentionally exclusive of certain people, certain groups and whatnot. I think that’s something that, as leaders, we all have to think through today.”

Goldfein wrote that when he walks through Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day, he “will visit men and women buried side by side."

"Such is the nature of combat," he wrote. "It does not discriminate. Neither should we.”