Traverse City News and Events

Rose Hutchinson, Now Boarding Air Force One

By Al Parker | Nov. 11, 2023

Swaddled in a comfy a red-white-and-blue sweater and sporting a pair of dangling U-S-A earrings, 80-year-old Rose Hutchinson is the picture of patriotism looking forward to Veterans Day. But don't be fooled.

This smiling senior is a highly honored military heroine who spent three decades serving in the U.S. Air Force, rising to one of the highest ranks possible for a non-commissioned officer.

Meet Chief Master Sargent Rose Hutchinson, whose career was highlighted by a 16-year gig serving as an executive flight attendant aboard America's most famous aircraft, Air Force One.

“I've always been very patriotic,” says the affable Traverse City native, who was one of five sisters growing up in the 1950s and '60s. “I graduated from Central High in '61, went to NMC and worked a few jobs around town. My sisters stayed here, but I wanted to see the world.”

And see the world, she did. Rose enlisted in 1964 and after attending Air Force boot camp at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, she was assigned to duty at the Pentagon. There weren't very many women in the Air Force in the '60s and after a few years in Washington, Rose was looking for something different.

“Being a woman, I was aware of being somewhat of a pioneer,” she says. “But I have to say almost everyone was very nice to me.”

Rose applied for duty aboard Air Force One while she was at the Pentagon. She was able to cross train and ended up with over 10,000 flight hours, including one trip that logged 23,000 miles around the world. Her travels took her to every continent, except Antarctica. 

Eventually she became the Air Force One squadron leader with more than 100 staff under her command. Rose and her team served aboard both “Big Birds,” Boeing 707s and “Little Birds,” the smaller Lockheed Jetstar C-140 and the McDonell-Douglas C-9.

She was one of only a dozen women to earn the rank of Chief Master Sargent in 1982. “We knew we were ambassadors for the United States government and I did my best, and I know my troops did their best,” says Rose.

She served Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and got to know them all. Reagan became a favorite. “He was my favorite President because he was such a real man, he was like my dad,” she later told a local TV reporter, during one of her many media appearances.

It wasn't all just serving tasty meals to Presidents and hosting other dignitaries, such as Secretaries of Defense and Secretaries of the Air Force. On at least one mission in the Middle East, her aircraft came under fire and tensions were high. 

Following her retirement from the Air Force in 1993, Rose returned to Traverse City, where she quickly returned to a service role, as an active volunteer for a number of worthy causes and an employee at a downtown TC landmark.  “I worked at Milliken's Tea Room after the Air Force,” she says. “I worked 11 to 2 or 11 to 4, I just wanted to serve. I love the service part of jobs.”

Rose's TC home is full of mementos and memorabilia from her Air Force career. Scrapbooks, photos, Air Force One brochures and matchbooks, even Reagan jelly beans are prominently on display. She feels that everyone should serve their country in some way.

This fourth generation TC native's legacy of service may have rubbed off on her niece Lindsey Pierce who also enlisted in the Air Force and is poised to become a Training Instructor (Drill Instructor) of new recruits at Lack land AFB.

Rose is proud to be a veteran, proud to be patriotic and proud to be a 2012 inductee into the Traverse City Central High School Hall of Fame.

“I was patriotic as a child, I watched a lot of John Wayne movies,” she says with a bright smile “Patriotism, I feel it in my heart.”

Nov. 11, Veterans Day is a holiday dedicated to American veterans of all wars. In 1918, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, an armistice was declared between the Allied nations and Germany in World War I. Commemorated as Armistice Day the following year, November 11 became a federal holiday in 1938. In the aftermath of World War II and the Korean War, Armistice Day became known as Veterans Day.


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