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She Helped Pave the Way for Women in the Service
Tricia Wood and her husband visited Sun Valley while working for Federal Express in Memphis. They bought a home here in 2002 because Sun Valley offered both a resort and a real community, unlike so many ski resorts.
Saturday, November 13, 2021


Tricia Wood stood out when she applied to be a Navy aviator in 1978.

The Navy took 18 women a year—six service members, six ROTC members and six civilians--for flight training. And there was just one other female aviator at the time.  But it didn’t deter Tricia Watson Wood.

“My dad had a small airplane and my brother was flying for the Navy. And, of course, I was always trying to keep up with my brother,” said Wood, who grew up in East Tennessee. “I wanted to fly jets, but I decided if I didn’t make it, I’d still at least be in the Navy.”

Polly Weaver, Renee Cook, Suzan Stommel, Julie Lynn, Maggi Ferris, Trish Wood, and Karen Dunn handed out gift certificates provided by 32 restaurants to the veterans. Others who helped collect certificates were Bonnie Hovencamp, Liz Insinger, Ann Ferris and Jennifer Bellinger.

Wood was among nearly 100 veterans and their spouses who gathered for the annual Veteran’s Day dinner at the American Legion Hall in Ketchum Thursday night. Retired pilot John O’Connor played “Taps” for eight American legion members who had passed away during the previous year.

Pioneer Restaurant Dusty Witmer provided prime rib for the Legion Hall, which has 152 full and part-time members. And Chris McCarthy, the pastry chef for St. Luke’s, fashioned individual lava cakes served with coffee ice cream.

And the Blaine County Republican Women passed out a hundred gift certificates from 32 valley restaurants and grocery stores.

“Even with the pandemic, everyone was so excited and willing to donate,” said Polly Weaver, who was among 10 women who collected gift certificates. “It was an eye opener of how giving the community is, how much it cares and appreciate our vets.”

Rod and Jeannie Koleno celebrated their love story on Veteran’s Day.

During the eight years that Tricia Wood was in the Navy, women were not allowed to take part in combat—that changed in 1993. But she did teach men how to fly and gave them a friendly target to shoot at.

“To me it was not a big deal. It was probably more of a big deal for them,” she said.

Wood spent part of her time at the Key West Naval Station, where she got her fill of lobster and key lime pie. She also went to Puerto Rico where she flew over carriers and destroyers using her for target practice.

She spent the rest of her time with Pacific Fleet Adversary Squadron 127 at Lemoore, Calif. It was the aggressor, or, attack, squadron of the U.S. Navy—the “Top Gun” squadron.

John O’Connor played taps for eight members of the American Legion in Ketchum that passed away this past year.

There she pulled banners for gunners on Navy airplanes to shoot at which, she admits, was a little more dicey than the training exercises in Puerto Rico.

“I loved the training, and I have friends for life from those days,” said Wood, who now volunteers with Higher Ground’s ski camps for veterans.

In January 1986 Wood and her husband retired from the Navy and went to work as pilots for Federal Express. There, too, Wood was one of the few female pilots.

It involved a lot of night flying until Federal Express went 24 hours. Flying international flights offered opportunity for better sleep and a chance to see Germany, Switzerland, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines and Pakistan.

“My favorite was Paris, and the company assigned us as chief pilots for Europe so we got to live there for five years,” she said.

Wood says she loved every minute of her time in the air.

“I’m so excited how women now do everything in the military—even the commanding officer on the USS Abraham Lincoln is a woman,” she said. “Women are now doing everything the guys are doing—they’ve very much assimilated. From what I’ve seen, there’s not much they can’t do.”


Among those enjoying Thursday night’s Veteran’s Day celebration were Rod and Jeannie Koleno, who can credit their stint in the military for a long-lasting romance.

The two met at a formal military dinner in San Antonio, where they were stationed. They danced the evening away and one week later decided to get married.

“I was on my way to Las Vegas in two weeks so I was not looking to be married but we fell in love,” said Rod. “Everyone said we need to wait at least three months before we got married so that’s what we did.”

Jeannie hated to leave the hospital in San Antonio where she worked as a nurse—it was a teaching hospital so she felt as if she were going to school every day. And she knew she’d end up on the bottom rung, getting the worse shifts, if she transferred. But love won out.

“I had to get up at 5:30 to get to the radar site at Mt. Charleston,” said Rod. “So, we didn’t get to see much of each other between our early and late-night shifts. But we knew we’d have the rest of our lives together to see each other.”

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