Charlotte Holder Clinger was born on 8 November 1943 in Asheboro, North Carolina. The family moved throughout the Carolinas while Clinger was growing up, and moved to Queretaro City, Mexico, for one year when she was a senior in high school. Clinger attended Queens College in Charlotte, North Carolina, for one year, the University of the Americas in Mexico City for one year, and then transferred to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG). She graduated from UNCG in 1965 with a degree in history.
Clinger joined the air force in August 1967. She attended Officer Training School for three months at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, and was then sent to Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, Colorado, for intelligence training in November. While at Lowry, Clinger met her future husband, Noel Clinger.
In fall 1968, Clinger received orders to the Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base in Korat, Thailand, where she was the first woman ever stationed with the 553rd Reconnaissance Wing. She did intelligence briefings and debriefings during that one-year tour, which also included temporary duty at U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Air Field. Clinger returned to the United States in September 1969 with orders to Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin, Texas, where she worked in intelligence at the 12th Air Force Headquarters with the Tactical Air Command. In January 1973, Clinger returned to Southeast Asia, this time assigned to Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base. She initially did intelligence work for F-111 fighter bombers, then worked as wing executive officer under Colonel Thomas Lacy. She returned to Austin in July 1973.
In December 1973 Charlotte Clinger married Noel Clinger and transferred back to Lowry AFB, where they both taught in the intelligence school. In 1975, Charlotte Clinger resigned active duty and joined a reserve unit of the Air Force Intelligence Service based at Lowry, while working on a master's degree at the University of Northern Colorado. In the late 1970s, the Clingers joined the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and moved to Fairfax, Virginia. During that time Clinger also became the first woman to command a Joint Military Reserve Training Command unit, which she did from 1991 to 1994. Clinger retired from the reserve as a full colonel in 1994. She retired from the CIA in 2001.