Monday, April 06, 2009

First Woman Army Pilot Recognized

A fellow former army pilot sent me a link to this press release, which has special significance to me because of my history of learning to fly in the Army in 1993 (that's me to the left). Although I felt like a trailblazer even then, the first woman army pilot graduated 20 years earlier.

Army Honors 1(st) Female Aviator in Recognition of Women's History Month; Sally Murphy Receives Freedom Team Salute Commendation.

"Thirty-five years ago, 2nd Lieutenant Sally Murphy walked across a stage at Fort Rucker, Alabama and stepped into U.S. Army history. It was 1974 and Murphy became the first woman to graduate from the Army Aviation School. She was the Army’s first female helicopter and fixed wing pilot. She retired as a Colonel in 1999.

Murphy joined the Army’s Women Army Corps (WAC) program in 1972 and entered the Aviation School when the Army opened its ranks to women. She had previously attended the Military Intelligence School at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. After graduating from Aviation School, she served with the 330th Army Security Agency Company (Guardrail II) flying RU-21 airplanes as an intelligence officer along the border between Germany and the Soviet Union. Later she flew Huey helicopters and commanded a Company for the 1st infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kansas and went on to command the 62nd Aviation Company in Germany and the 78th Aviation Battalion (Provisional) in Japan."

I also went to Germany after graduating from flight school (me again on the left) and attended the Military Intelligence Advanced Course at Fort Huachuca, after getting a fixed wing transition. Even 20 years after COL Murphy's experience, I can agree with her assessment of her time as a pilot in the army:

“I was the only woman in Army Aviation School in the early 70s and if I told you I did not have problems with a few people, I would not be truthful,” said Murphy. “But things were changing and with the Vietnam War winding down, the Army needed to fill some voids. There were some tough times but it made me stronger. The Army is a family and there was always someone giving me encouragement and ready to assist me anytime I needed help.”

I was not the only woman in flight school but was, and am often, the only woman in my flight training classes (as a civilian, too). I might have been a groundbreaker as well, as women started to be accepted into combat helicopters right when I was finishing up with my Huey training. Rather than choose a "follow on" helicopter like the Apache, for example, I decided to stay in the Huey. I'm glad I did, because it allowed me to be available for the later fixed wing transition and related assignments in order to become the professional pilot I am today. My grandpa and I in the picture to the right.

Everything I've been able to accomplish is because other women have paved the way, to include the Women Air Force Pilots of WWII and COL Murphy. “Colonel (Ret.) Sally Murphy is an Army Aviation legend,” said Colonel David Griffith, Director of the Army’s Freedom Team Salute Program. “It is not often we have the opportunity to honor someone with a commendation who was a trailblazer. Sally Murphy has paved the way for hundreds of women to follow her footsteps and become Army Aviators. She is truly living history.” Read full article.

How about the current female Army Pilots out there? Do you think times and treatment have changed significantly? Leave your comments below.

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