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|Born||1961 (age 55–56)|
|Service/branch||Royal Air Force|
Flight Lieutenant Caroline Paige (born 1959) was the first transgender officer to serve openly in the UK Armed Forces. Before her transition in 1999, she served in the cold war intercepting Soviet bomber planes, and was involved in the Gulf War and Bosnia Conflict. She switched to Battlefield Helicopters in 1992 and flew several operational tours post-transition, including, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, before her retirement from the military in November 2014.
Caroline developed an interest in aviation as a teenager and achieved an RAF Flying Scholarship leading to a Private Pilots Licence when she was 17. She joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1980 and after completing Navigator Training at RAF Finningley she was posted to Phantom F4s in the Air Defence role at RAF Leuchars. Caroline flew 1500 hours on F4s and intercepted 34 Soviet long-range bomber aircraft when on Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) during the Cold War, she also completed tours providing Air Defence in the Falkland Islands. In 1989 she was posted to 63 Squadron RAF Chivenor flying Hawk T Mk1A on the Tactical Weapons Unit as an instructor/training officer for navigators undergoing Fast Jet conversion training and introducing student pilots to two-seat crew operations. In 1990 she was deployed with just one hours notice to Saudi Arabia, to help set-up and run a tactical air operations centre following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and in the buildup to the Gulf War. After completing her tour at Chivenor she accepted a request for fast jet navigators to re-role to Support Helicopters, to provide fast jet experience of operating a pilot/navigator cockpit on tactical operations.
Upon completing helicopter training at RAF Shawbury she was posted to 60 Squadron at RAF Benson flying the Westland Wessex HC2. The following year Caroline completed a Helicopter Tactics Instructor Course, the beginning of a very active role in the training and preparation of crews for operational tactical flying. In 1995 she joined a UN Anglo-French Rapid Reaction Force (RRFOR) team operating from Kiseljak, Bosnia, where she became responsible for the co-ordination and safe routing of UN helicopter operations within Bosnia. She remained in Bosnia with NATO forces when they took on responsibility following the cease-fire.
In 1997 Caroline helped set up the newly created Rotary Wing Operational Evaluation and Training Unit (RWOETU) at RAF Benson where she was responsible for the initial operational development and introduction of the new AW101 Merlin HC Mk3 helicopter into RAF service. In 1998 Caroline finally accepted she needed to resolve her lifelong battle with her gender identity and after informing the RAF of her need to transition she was accepted in service as a female officer. Eighteen months later she was publicly 'outed' on the front page of The Sun newspaper (10 Aug 2000). After a short tour at RAF Innsworth on the Recruiting Policy desk, working on the implementation of ethnic minority recruiting policy, she successfully agreed her return to RAF Benson, to join No 28 (AC) Squadron ready for its reformation as the first Squadron to receive the Merlin HC Mk3 Battlefield Helicopter. On completion of No.1 Merlin Operational Conversion Course Caroline worked to prepare and develop crew tactical readiness for the Squadron's deployment to Bosnia in 2003, in support of SFOR, and for Iraq in 2005. This experience saw her returning to RWOETU where she worked hard to evolve the aircraft platform protection systems and tactical training for crews, helping to improve survivability for crews and troops flying in hostile environments. Over a five-year period this work was recognised with two Commander Joint Helicopter Command Commendations for 'Exceptional Service' with a 3rd Commendation from the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Air Force in the Queen's New Year Honours List of 2012. During this period Caroline also completed a further three tours in Iraq, operating Merlin helicopters with 1419 Flt, and formed part of an Operational Evaluation team deploying to Afghanistan for the first Merlin deployment in 2009 and again in 2010. In 2011 she returned to 28 (AC) Sqn and completed a further two tours flying in Afghanistan. In her final two years of service she also helped RWOETU with the development and running of the European Defence Agency (EDA) Helicopter Tactics Course, instructed crews on the first two of these courses and advised EDA Project teams on future platform protection requirements for rotary wing aircraft. Her final role was to lead an EDA Mentor Team to Portugal in 2014 to train, evaluate and advise European helicopter crews participating in EXERCISE HOTBLADE 14, a multinational flying exercise involving military helicopters from six European nations. Caroline served in the RAF for thirty-five years and remained flying in thirty-four of them, she completed seventeen operational tours.
Transitioning Gender in the Military
Following her transition in early 1999 Caroline was influential in promoting transgender equality and inclusion in the UK Armed Forces. Her 2000 public 'outing' by The Sun newspaper led to much criticism of the decision to allow her to remain in the military. Critical, though unofficial and unqualified, voices declared transgender people would be a liability, especially if they were allowed to serve with front-line forces. UK Policy now permitted transgender individuals to serve in the military but, whilst the majority of personnel accepted the change in policy, very few understood what it meant to be transgender or how inclusion could succeed, they needed assurance that it was the correct decision. Caroline realised being a trailblazer and role model bore enormous responsibility; she had to succeed if she was going to prove her opponents wrong and to do that she would have to earn respect and be valued, not just as a member of the military but as someone who wasn't 'a liability on the front-line', in fact someone who was needed. In proving her own worth she also determined to help make the military a more inclusive environment for those following in her footsteps. She became an Equality and Diversity Adviser for the military in 2000, trained as a Mentor, became a member of the RAF LGBT Forum and Proud2Serve support groups, and participated as a key note speaker at several military conferences and training events throughout the UK. Her role as a trailblazer, positive role-model and champion of diversity in the UK Armed Forces earned her a Permanent-Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Peoples Award in 2011.
Caroline quickly saw the benefit of her open and honest approach as attitudes became more positive and understanding grew into support. Trailblazing in the military as a trans woman provided many difficult challenges but the unconditional support and friendship of so many of her colleagues, including those from all three services who had never met or worked with her directly, was a major factor in making the UK military the permissive and inclusive workplace it became, for her, for transgender individuals following, for people with other diverse challenges, for anyone.
In 2014 Caroline advised the Palm Center, San Francisco State University, regarding a national commission offering implementation guidance seeking the inclusion of openly-serving transgender personnel in the US military. Caroline was invited as a key panel member at a conference on ‘Perspectives on Transgender Military Service From Around the Globe’, held in Washington DC, co-sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Palm Center. She also co-authored an Op-ed with Petty Officer Landon Wilson for CNN, entitled ‘Both Transgender, but Unequal Paths in Military Service’ http://cnn.it/12ka78t; and was interviewed on BBC The World Radio http://bit.ly/126yshT. Caroline has enrolled with Stonewall on their School Role Models Programme where she contributes her story to support, educate and inspire people and to illustrate the positive values of respect, diversity and inclusion. Caroline contributes to the Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/caroline-paige/