Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project Veterans

Veterans Day Spotlight on UNCG Alumna and Air Force Veteran Charlotte Holder Clinger

The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project (WVHP) was begun in 1998 with the enthusiastic support of Woman’s College (the precursor to UNCG) alumnae who were World War II veterans. These vets’ oral histories, uniforms and other military related materials formed the foundation of the WVHP. Of the 523 current collections in the WVHP, 111 of these are from women who have UNCG connections, including undergraduate and nursing school alumnae, faculty and veterans who used the G.I. Bill benefits for their education.

One of these alumna is Charlotte Holder Clinger. Clinger was born in 1943 in Asheboro, North Carolina. Her family moved throughout the Carolinas while she was growing up, and moved to Queretaro City, Mexico, for one year when she was a senior in high school. Holder attended Queens College in Charlotte, North Carolina, for one year, the University of the Americas in Mexico City for one year, and then transferred to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG). She graduated from UNCG in 1965 with a degree in history.

Pine Needles 1965 (p. 1)Charlotte Jean Holder (p. 164)

Clinger joined the air force in August 1967. She attended Officer Training School for three months at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.

Charlotte Holder Clinger at Officer Training School, 1967

From Clinger’s 2006 Oral History Interview:

I set off in August of 1967 to Officer Training School [OTS], and that’s a three-month course at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas for officers. It’s basic training for officers, really, is what it is. But I had no idea what I was getting into. So the day that they said, “Well, we’re going to have a lawn party,” I thought finally we’re doing something that I consider civilized. Well, a lawn party turned out to be us in our gym shorts out there picking grass from between the sidewalks. No kidding.

Clinger then sent to Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, Colorado, for intelligence training in November. While at Lowry, Clinger met her future husband, Noel Clinger.

In fall 1968, Clinger received orders to the Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base in Korat, Thailand, where she was the first woman ever stationed with the 553rd Reconnaissance Wing. She did intelligence briefings and debriefings during that one-year tour, which also included temporary duty at U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Air Field.

Clinger briefs air crews, circa 1969. The 553rd Recon Wing’s shield, with batcat logo and “Cavete Cattam”
(Beware of the Cat) motto, can be seen behind her.

 From Clinger’s 2006 Oral History Interview:

So my job was briefing and debriefing, intelligence, basically. I put briefings together to tell the crews what they were going to be facing, what they were going to be doing, how it looked out there, what to stay away from, because if there was something—As slow as the Connie was, if there was something like a SAM, Surface-to-Air Missile, in the area, they needed to change where they were going to be flying, because they couldn’t fly over SAMs, they’d be dead. So it was my job to keep them from getting killed. 

Clinger returned to the United States in September 1969 with orders to Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin, Texas, where she worked in intelligence at the 12th Air Force Headquarters with the Tactical Air Command. 

Clinger poses in the cockpit of a plane while on a Junior Officer’s Council trip to an
Army base near Bergstrom Air Force Base in Texas, circa 1970.

 From Clinger’s 2006 Oral History Interview:

I was sent back to Austin, Texas, and was stationed there at Bergstrom where they had F-4s. They had an RF-4 training unit, R for Reconnaissance, what they called RTU [Replacement Training Unit]. That was an interesting tour also. I was at 12th Air Force Headquarters in their intelligence office, so I went out and did a lot of assistance visits. On the occasion when they went to a recce [reconnaissance] unit, I went out as part of the IG team, the Inspector General team.

In January 1973, Clinger returned to Southeast Asia, this time assigned to Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base. She initially did intelligence work for F-111 fighter bombers, then worked as wing executive officer under Colonel Thomas Lacy.

Clinger speaks to Colonel Lacy while stationed at Takhli Air Force Base in Thailand in 1973.

Clinger returned to Austin in July 1973. In December 1973 She married Noel Clinger and transferred back to Lowry AFB, where they both taught in the intelligence school. In 1975, Charlotte Clinger resigned active duty and joined a reserve unit of the Air Force Intelligence Service based at Lowry, while working on a master’s degree at the University of Northern Colorado. In the late 1970s, the Clingers joined the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and moved to Fairfax, Virginia. During that time Clinger also became the first woman to command a Joint Military Reserve Training Command unit, which she did from 1991 to 1994. Clinger retired from the reserve as a full colonel in 1994 and retired from the CIA in 2001.

Colonel Charlotte Holder Clinger (center, in civilian attire) receives a certificate from Lieutenant General John Gordon,
joined by Lieutenant General Claudia J. Kennedy, circa 1994.

 From Clinger’s 2006 Oral History Interview:

When I made full colonel, which is unusual, there aren’t many women full colonels, particularly not in reserve, I became the unit commander. So I was the first female commander of that unit, Joint Military Reserve Training Command. Then later, and that was from ’91 to ’94 was my last command. Then I retired in ’94, November of 1994, and in 1997 CIA gave me an award as a woman military pioneer in their fiftieth anniversary, which I was very proud of. It was one of—because one of the reasons they wanted to acknowledge me was that I was the first woman commander of a Joint Military Reserve Command unit.

From Clinger’s 2006 Oral History Interview:

Interviewer: You said that there were several negatives about being a woman in the military. What do you think the biggest ones were?

Clinger: The perception that you don’t belong there. I didn’t get that feeling most of the time, almost never. I felt like I belonged and did a job, but there are still people, women more than men, who are outside the military who feel that women don’t belong in the military. You know, you feel like—I feel like, who are they to say what your calling is? Who is any human being to say what another person’s calling is? I feel that way about all things that women aspire to or men aspire to. Who is anybody else to say what your calling is, whether it’s being a minister or a nurse or a doctor or in the military? If it’s your calling, the thing that you can do well, meaning the thing that you can do well, press on, you know, press on.

To learn more about Charlotte Holder Clinger, visit her WVHP page:

Article by Beth Ann Koelsch

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