Retired Brigadier General Linda McTague was a pioneer, even if she didn’t see herself that way. Born in 1957 in Battle Creek, Michigan, Linda joined the Air Force in 1981, after earning a Masters Degree in Adult Education from Florida International University. From there, she began proving what women can accomplish in our country’s military.
When she joined the Air Force, women still weren’t allowed to fly combat aircraft. It’s hard to believe, but that didn’t happen until 1993, and it wasn’t entirely popular with the military brass, including the Air Force Chief of Staff himself. “Personally, I am not eager to increase exposure of our women to additional risk,” he explained. Retired Gen. Robert Barrow, former commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, was more blunt about his opinions in a 1991 Congressional hearing on the subject: “If you want to make a combat unit ineffective, add some women to it.”
Their concern was purportedly for the morale of the men in the unit, rather than the ability or fragility of the women, but it’s rankling to read such comments anyway.
So Linda flew operational support aircraft and began climbing the military hierarchy ladder, eventually working her way up to commander of the District of Columbia Air National Guard’s 201st Airlift Squadron in 1997, which flies members of Congress and other dignitaries around the world. Along the way, she logged more than 5,250 hours in eight kinds of aircraft, including a four-year stint as an instructor pilot and Wings of Blue parachute team pilot at the U.S. Air Force Academy. In December of 2003, Linda assumed command of the D.C. Air National Guard’s highly decorated 113th Wing, which is 1,050 men and women strong and includes the 121st Fighter Squadron and the 201st Airlift Squadron she once commanded.
She retired as a Brigadier General and the D.C. Air National Guard’s Deputy Commanding General – Air, Joint Force Headquarters in 2009, and her military decorations include the Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service and multiple Air Medals. She was also the first woman to command an Air Guard flying squadron (the 201st in 1997), an Air National Guard Wing (the 113th in 2003) and an Air Force fighter squadron (the 121st in 2003).
She moved back home to Michigan and started enjoying the pleasures of an early retirement, but being the woman that she was, that didn’t mean just sitting around. When Honor Flight, a non-profit, volunteer-run organization that flies WWII veterans to Washington, D.C., so that they can visit their memorial and see the capital, opened a branch in southern Michigan, Linda immediately reached out. As Dan Moyle, Vice President of Talons Out Honor Flight, says, “Almost as soon as we opened our doors in 2013, Linda reached out. When my sister-in-law called me and said a retired Brigadier General wanted to help, I just about fell out of my chair. But she never wanted to grab the spotlight—it wasn’t about her. She wanted to serve.”
One word that floats around any mention of Linda is “humble.” When asked if she sees herself as a pioneer for women in the military in a 2004 interview, she was quick to point out that many other women did plenty of pioneering before she came around, including the famous Women Air Force Service (WASP) pilots during WWII. The way she sees it, she was just “in the right place, at the right time” to benefit from changing attitudes toward women—much as we are today, with more women riding motorcycles than ever before and manufacturers wising up to that fact. Although there’s plenty of progress yet to be made.
Linda herself was drawn to motorcycling after she retired, which Moyle, who rides a 2005 Ultra Glide, figures is a natural extension for a pilot. As he puts it, riding is basically “flying on two wheels.” She was already a gear head; she joined a local car club called the Misfits in 2010 and cruised around in a ’68 Mustang convertible. So she started poking around the local Harley dealership in Battle Creek, her eye on a new Softail. Her plans changed somewhat when she learned that her niece, who’d purchased a 2010 Sportster 1200 Custom, was having financial difficulties and needed to sell the bike. Rather than buy what she really wanted, Linda helped her niece and bought the Sportster.
That was just who Linda was, explains Cathy Jewell, the Officer for the Ladies of Harley (LOH) group that Linda belonged to. She always wanted to help and put others first. After riding around on the Sportster for a few months, she finally bought her dream bike in August of last year: a 2016 Softail Deluxe in Mysterious Red/Velocity Red. “When you’ve accumulated more than 6,000 hours of flight time in a variety of jets, a Harley is pretty easy,” Jewell laughs. Linda joined the LOH, which is part of the Calhoun County Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.) Chapter #2116, and immediately got involved—despite her busy social life. “She had a lot of schedule conflicts with the Misfits,” remembers Jewell. “They would often schedule events on the same weekend as ours. But if we had something planned that was helping others, serving others, she would always make time for that.”
The LOH, currently 58 women strong, is active in the community, and one of the favorite activities is the Adopt-a-Family program. Every year, the group “adopts” several families for Thanksgiving and Christmas, buying them groceries for their holiday meals and gifts to put under their Christmas trees. One activity Linda enjoyed was making cozy fleece blankets for the kids.
When she brought home her new Softail, the ladies in the group immediately started trying to come up with a name for it; everyone’s bike had a name. But for some reason, the Softail resisted being named, and Linda would just shake her head, saying she’d know the right one when she heard it. So the ladies started calling it the Horse With No Name—which went perfectly with Linda’s own nickname, Annie Oakley, bestowed on her because of the fringed tan leather jacket she was fond of wearing.
Once a month, on the second Wednesday, the LOH would meet up for dinner and, if the weather was nice, a ride. Thanks to the warming spring weather, May 10 was the first dinner ride of 2017. A total of 13 women rode together to the restaurant, including Linda, where they met a few more and enjoyed a night of laughter and friendship. Jewell recalls that Linda was especially excited to join some of the ladies on a road trip to the northern part of the state; she hadn’t had a lot of opportunities yet to take long trips on her bike, and it was something she was very much looking forward to.
“There was a lot of love that night,” recalls Jewell. “And it was with that love in her heart that she was called home.”
Linda took her last “flight” that evening, as she cruised home along the Michigan country roads. Witnesses say there was nothing she could’ve done to avoid the car that struck her. Her friends and family would have preferred to have more time with her, but they are grateful to have had her in their lives. Linda’s legacy is one of service, humility, dedication and love, and we honor that.
Ride in Peace.
Brigadier General (Ret.) Linda McTague: November 22, 1957 – May 10, 2017.