'Femme Fatale' wins commandant's award for thesis

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Lt. Col. Kristal Alfonso received the annual School of Advanced Air and Space Studies Commandant's Award for best thesis in the leadership and ethics category during a ceremony at the school's Werling Auditorium on Nov. 14.

The award was presented by SAASS commandant Col. Scott Gorman, who said SAASS's No. 1 asset is its people.

"Kristal's thesis was titled 'Femme Fatale' and involved the role of women in combat," he said. "She put a lot of hard work into the thesis, and it shows her skills as a strategist."

Colonel Alfonso said she was "very, very happy and very, very honored" to receive the award, which is sponsored by the Air University Foundation and First Command.

She especially thanked her adviser, Lt. Col. John Terino, for all the help and support she received while completing the paper.

"I never would have thought I would be honored in this way," she said.

Colonel Alfonso said she has always had an interest in the role of women in war, starting with the American Civil War to the present, and during her year at Air Command and Staff College she wrote the first paper on the subject.

"When I got to SAASS, I wanted to expand on the subject, especially the modern-day activities of women in the Middle East who, while not actively involved in the fighting, are contributing to the war effort by concealing weapons and becoming suicide bombers," she said. "I also looked at the Soviet Union's employment of women as combat pilots, a subject that hasn't received much attention."

The colonel said she explored various ideas on how women can be incorporated into the fight without hindering the mission, and she also looked at why women become involved in resisting an enemy during times of conflict.

She said there is a lot more research to be done on the subject, and regrettably her thesis could not explore it as deeply as she would have liked because she had to stay within the scope of the SAASS curriculum.

Dr. Richard Muller, SAASS associate dean and professor of military history, oversees the school's award program.

He said that with each class, thesis readers nominate papers for the awards. He assigns a panel not associated with the authors in each of the five categories to review and score the papers.

"Colonel Alfonso's thesis won, in part, because it was a good historical analysis but also had current-day policy ramifications," he said. "A good thesis has to have both historical and current implications. It can't just be a pure academic study. It must be rooted in why the student is at SAASS, and that is to become a strategist."

Colonel Alfonso is currently assigned to Air University's Air Force Research Institute, and said she views the assignment as a great opportunity to help shape the future of the Air Force.

"The Air Force has many challenges ahead in dealing with manpower and budget issues, and Air Force Research Institute is an interesting opportunity to see the thought process regarding how our senior leaders develop a vision for the future," she said.