"I think everyone is pretty surprised at all the publicity (about her appointment). I mean, what's the big deal," she said. "Being a woman has never even entered my mind. It's not something that I think about, because there's no difference."
McLaughlin, whose parents have been involved in the Air Force, grew up thinking it was a good way of life for people who believe they have superior discipline. Her father is a former chief of staff of the Air Force Air Training Command; her mother was an Air Force nurse.
"I consider myself a well-disciplined person, and the Air Force is that," she said. "I've always wanted to be an officer. I didn't want to marry an officer, so I knew I'd have to do it myself."
McLaughlin has been involved in BYU's ROTC program for about 11/2 years. She now oversees the training of about 250 cadets and runs a staff of seven. Her stint as wing commander will end in December, but she's confident it will prepare her for a career in the Air Force.
She's getting cooperation along the way from all of the cadets under her, she says, and there aren't even any detectable snickers from the males.
There will be limits, though, to what she can do as a woman in the military. McLaughlin wants to become a fighter pilot, but because females are not allowed in combat she'll have to settle for being a transport pilot.
"That would be exciting to become a fighter, but I'm a realist, and women can't go into combat now."
The Air Force ROTC has existed at BYU since 1951 and there have been women members during that time, but McLaughlin said they often drop out to get married or focus on other pursuits.
"Until now, there hasn't been a qualified woman (to be wing commander)," she said.
There are about 23 female members now in the Air Force ROTC at BYU.