- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 23, 2009

Fort Myer

The U.S. Army’s first female helicopter pilot, retired Col. Sally D. Murphy, was honored at Fort Myer on March 25 - a fitting tribute during Women’s History Month. Col. Murphy earned her wings 35 years ago at Fort Rucker, Ala., after completing the first Army aviation course to admit women.

Col. Murphy, who joined the Women’s Army Corps (WACs) in 1972, began her military career in intelligence. When aviation school was opened to women, she jumped at the chance. She flew Huey helicopters for the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kan. Her first assignment in Germany allowed her to use all her skills as she flew missions along the Cold War border in a small unit that supported early-warning and signal intelligence. She called this “keeping an eye on the powers of the Warsaw Pact.”

She also was one of the first women to command an aviation unit. In 1986, she returned to Germany to lead the 62nd Aviation Company (the Coachmen) in support of V Corp Headquarters. From 1991 to 1994, Col. Murphy commanded the 78th Aviation Battalion at Camp Zama in Japan, where she was responsible for both Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopters and C-12 fixed-wing airplanes. In total, Col. Murphy spent 26 years on active duty in the Army.

The ceremony honoring Col. Murphy was arranged by Freedom Team Salute, an Army program that honors soldiers and their support network. “Because of [pioneers like Murphy], women make up 15 percent of the Army and are present in 91 percent of the Army’s occupations,” said program director Col. David Griffith at the ceremony. Women make up 2 percent of all military pilots, and since 1993 fly aircraft in combat missions. In 1997, the first all-woman Air Force Fly-Over Team performed at the dedication of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial.

“Thank you, Colonel Murphy, for your steadfastness and courage to go where no woman in the Army had ever gone before and to pave the way for the rest of us,” said Fort Myer Garrison Commander Col. Laura J. Richardson during the ceremony.

“I love being in the Army; I love being an aviator … ,” Col. Murphy said during the ceremony. She said her career was a great adventure that she would not change in the least.

Women are not new to military service. Great warrior leaders such as Cleopatra in ancient Egypt and Queen Elizabeth I of England are part of history and myth. Deborah Sampson served during the American Revolution for three years, posing as Robert Shurtliff. She then went on a lecture tour promoting women’s rights at the same time that Abigail Adams was telling her husband to “not forget the ladies” while attending the Constitutional Convention in 1787.

Women flew airplanes in this country before they could vote. The first female pilot licensed was Harriet Quimby in 1911. In 1917, an accomplished long-distance pilot, Ruth Bancroft Law, wrote an article titled “Let Women Fly” to promote her desire to fly during World War I. She eventually was allowed a noncommissioned uniform and flew on bond drives. During World War II, the women of Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) flew every plane used during that conflict, including an experimental jet piloted by Ann Baumgartner.

With the advent of the all-volunteer force in the 1970s, women began to join the military in greater numbers. Today, it is commonplace to see a female civilian pilot, but this was not always true. Once the military began to train women as pilots, there was a supply of skilled women for nonmilitary service.

c Linda Bartlett is a writer in Annandale. Her husband is a retired army colonel.

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