Traversing Success from Ski Slope to Courtroom
Vol.8 Issue 2
Rebecca A. Lipe, Attorney
Aeronautical Center, Central Region Counsel (AMC-007)

Not many people have a vision of what they want to become when they are young, but for Rebecca Lipe, her sights were always set on becoming a lawyer. From the first time she watched the television series "JAG" (the military acronym for Judge Advocate General), she knew that she wanted to be a part of conducting informal and formal investigations based on military operational law. Rebecca wanted to follow her father’s and grandfather’s footsteps by joining the military and then soon realized she could do both: join the military and become a lawyer in the armed forces.

When Rebecca was just two years old, her parents took her and her older brother and sister to Caberfe Peaks in Cadillac, Michigan to teach them how to ski. In the mornings, they would attend individual lessons and then in the afternoon they would practice skiing down bigger hills with their parents. During one visit, Rebecca skied to a portion of the mountain where the only way down was to ski down a "black diamond" slope (the most difficult type of hill). Her father encouraged her to pop off her skies and walk down the hill with him. Instead, Rebecca took off straight down the hill and didn’t look back. Fortunately, she had already mastered stopping techniques, which she was able to apply when she got to the bottom of the mountain. It was then that her parents realized she had a true passion for downhill skiing.

Knowing the right manuevers, Rebecca takes on the Slalom course at a Juniors Race in Lutsen, Minnesota.

From then on, Rebecca continued to ski every year until she was five years old. Her parents enrolled her in her first Nastar race competition. Nastar is a race series that anyone can sign up to compete. Rebecca competed and she won! This launched her life-long passion for the sport. Her parents soon registered her in a Junior Development Program where Rebecca would train during the week and race on weekends. She began earning top spots in the competitions. Rebecca’s father had the foresight to ensure that she had a means to keep competing. Since the local high school did not have a ski team, her dad initiated a program that quickly turned into a successful girls and boys ski team. During Rebecca’s Sophomore, Junior and Senior years she was consecutively selected for the All-Conference, All-Region, and All-State Teams each year.

In High School, Rebecca began racing in a Juniors Program under the umbrella of the U.S. Ski Association, where she would compete against other U.S. Ski Team members and college racers, etc. She competed in Colorado, Minnesota, and Michigan.

From a young age, Rebecca, learned the importance of discipline and commitment. She sacrificed going to school dances and parties and hanging out with friends. "But I loved every minute of it," explains Lipe. She reflects, "You have to be independent. My parents couldn’t always travel with me out of state, so I was responsible for getting myself there, getting ready to race, and taking care of myself while racing."

Training was something done year-round. During off-season, she was running Track and Cross Country and lifting weights. Then during ski season, the days were filled with training and competitions. Lipe discloses, "It’s a demanding life, but also worth it." Some of her best memories are times that she shared with her ski teammates. "We looked after one another. We still make it a point to stay in contact to this day," says Lipe.

Rebecca receives a medal for first place from her U.S. Ski Team coach. She received first place in both Giant Slalom and Slalom at a high school race at Crystal Mountain, Michigan.

Rebecca’s schedule from November to April was comprised of training in the weight room, training on the hill, or racing every day and weekend. She continued racing up through college for the Northern Michigan University Women’s Alpine Ski Team but was hindered by medical issues that limited her ability to race. During training in her Freshman year, she injured her shoulder and had to have reconstructive surgery. Then during her Sophomore year, she was in a motorcycle accident and experienced substantial injuries that prevented her from returning to the slopes until late in the season. Then as luck would have it, during her Sophomore year, the Women’s Alpine Ski Team experienced state-wide budget cuts.

Rebecca decided it was time to transition her energies and elected to transfer to Michigan State University, where she completed her education and went onto Law School at the University of Mississippi. Upon graduation, Rebecca began her legal career as a Judge Advocate General in the United States Air Force, where she served for six and half years.

In 2011, she deployed to Iraq. Her legal responsibilities varied, and she began to focus on Aviation Law. She served as an on-scene legal advisor to fatal and non-fatal aviation and ground accidents (the military’s equivalent to National Transportation Safety Board investigations). She was also responsible for defending the Air Force in lawsuits arising from aviation accidents and incidents. Following her tenure in the military, Rebecca worked for a private law firm, Steptoe & Johnson, as a Transportation and Aviation attorney. She gained expertise in aviation accident investigations and litigation and regulatory work as well.

In 2019, she left the firm and began working on a 10-month passion project as the Director of Operations for the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN). SWAN is a non-profit that advocates for legislation affecting active duty and veteran service women. Rebecca also testified in front of the House Armed Services Committee on the application of the Feres Doctrine, a doctrine that prevents military members from being able to sue for military medical malpractice. Her testimony regarding the misdiagnosis of her injuries suffered while in Iraq, followed by years of medical maltreatment at the hands of the military medical providers (along with others affected by the Doctrine) led to the enactment of the Stayksal Act, as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, which allows members to now sue for medical malpractice.

Giving it her all, as Rebecca races in the Giant Slalom at a Juniors Event in Boyne City, Michigan.

In November 2021, Rebecca joined the FAA as an attorney in the Aircraft Registration Branch. Her job entails providing legal opinions, interpretations, and responses to public and agency inquiries relating to legal issues including the FAA’s Aircraft Registration and Recordation Program under Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR). Rebecca imparts, "I have enjoyed working for the FAA as it has provided a work/life balance for me that I had not experienced in the military or private sector. These days, most of my evenings are spent shuttling my four-year-old daughter around to her different activities which include dance, gymnastics, and swimming. Pre-pandemic, my family enjoyed traveling everywhere from Alaska to New Zealand, but now one of our favorite family activities is flying. My husband is a private pilot, so we have a shared passion for aviation."

When asking Rebecca about her biggest career achievements and disappointments to date, she discloses that they are tied to her testimony in front of Congress. She was successful in representing active duty and veteran service men and women by advocating for a change in the law that had been around since 1950, but wishes the change could have gone further, providing more allowances in the processing of the claims.

Thinking about how alpine racing and the legal profession are related, Rebecca says, "I think being an alpine racer has taught me discipline and a strong work ethic. It taught me to look critically at my performance to see how I can improve." Exploring traits that Rebecca admires in others, she supports, "Compassion and empathy. It’s important to recognize that not everyone has the same experiences or handles those experiences in the same way."

Whether skiing for recreation or sport or practicing law, Rebecca understands the need for certain life skills. One must be mentally and physically fit; one should have the right attitude and know your limitations, have courage, tenacity and master the art of balance; be of good moral standing and character; be versatile, self-reliant, adventurous, and humble. The FAA is proud to have Ms. Rebecca Lipe as part of our Aeronautical Center workforce. Her qualities of selflessness and integrity that she brings to the position are undeniable.

Inquiring of Rebecca about the best advice she’s ever received, she transparently responds, "It may not apply to the workforce as much, but to love who you are, you cannot hate the experiences that shaped you. This has provided comfort to me during the most negative moments of my life."

Alpine skiing has been an event in the Winter Olympics since 1936. Fun Fact: According to a Harvard Medical Study, Alpine Skiing burns between 360 and 532 calories per hour.

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