Former MP continues 'To Protect and Serve' as Apache aviator
May 1, 2014
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (May 1, 2014) -- "To Protect and serve" is a motto those in law enforcement live by as they strive to keep others safe.
Having lived that credo for two and a half years as a U.S. Army military police officer, Capt. Megan S. Reading continues to serve and protect, but now she does it from above, as an AH-64 Apache helicopter pilot with 10th Combat Aviation Brigade.
From fall 2009 to spring 2010, Reading's MP platoon trained the Iraqi Police in enhanced law enforcement techniques. Part of the joint training involved members of her platoon patrolling with their Iraqi counterparts.
After seeing the effectiveness of the U.S. Army OH-58 Kiowa helicopters providing security for her patrols, she began considering how rewarding it would be to be an aviator. The fact that her father was a helicopter pilot (flying a CH-47 Chinook pilot with the Texas National Guard and later the Bell 206 helicopter with the Dallas Police Helicopter Section) cemented her decision to apply to flight school.
"I remember looking at the 58s -- the Kiowas -- in Iraq, and thinking how much fun that would be," Reading said.
A native of Canton, Texas, Reading graduated in May 2008, from the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., with a bachelor of science degree in human regional geography, which she had initially intended to use as a foreign area officer.
Unlike many of her classmates who remained on campus during the academic year, Reading took advantage of West Point's intercollegiate athletics program in order to get away from campus. As an avid runner, she competed as a member of the Black Knight's cross country, and track and field team, in which she competed in the steeplechase.
Just before graduation, Reading was selected to be a military police officer. After graduating from the Officer Basic Course, she reported to her first duty assignment, 218th Military Police Company, 716th Military Police Battalion, 16th Military Police Brigade, at Fort Campbell, Ky., in the fall of 2008. Less than a year later, her platoon deployed to Hawijah, Iraq.
Insurgent activity made travel around Hawijah precarious, but the mission required Reading and her platoon members to travel outside their base nearly every day of their deployment. As she and members of her platoon returned from a bimonthly meeting at the District Police Headquarters, on Aug. 18, 2009, her vehicle was attacked.
"There were a lot of (RKG-3 antitank grenades) that they liked to throw at our patrols," Reading said of the local insurgents. "One of (the RKGs) went through my vehicle."
She, along with her gunner and interpreter, suffered injuries. Reading was driven back to their base and was medically evacuated to a higher care facility at Kirkuk Air Base. She returned to her platoon 22 days later.
Reading and her unit returned to Fort Campbell, in April 2010. That summer she submitted a flight packet, and in 2011, she began flight training at Fort Rucker, Ala. Reading said she got to fly the Kiowa in flight school but chose to specialize in the AH-64 Apache.
"I really like the mission of the Apache -- the security the Apaches provide," she said. "Part of it is probably from being on the ground in Iraq. (Providing security) is a way to give back -- to support the guys on the ground."
After completing flight school, Reading arrived at Fort Drum, in November 2012, and deployed with 1st Battalion (Attack), 10th Aviation Regiment, 10th CAB, as a flight platoon leader, in May 2013.
Her battalion would begin the deployment at Forward Operating Base Salerno in Khowst Province, Afghanistan, and would later move to Forward Operating Base Fenty in Nangarhar Province. The Apache crews were tasked with providing overhead security for ground forces, reconnaissance, and escorting passenger and cargo movement missions, which included escorting Afghan Air Force Mi-17 helicopters.
"In aviation, our job is to support the ground forces, and (Reading) understood that," said Lt. Col. Chad E. Ward, commander of 1st Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment, 10th CAB. "She understood our role, our mission, and she did exceptionally well during some tough missions. Her maturity, skill and ability to fly and fight the aircraft are the reasons she achieved pilot-in-command."
Reading flew more than 100 missions and amassed just over 650 combat flight hours during her nine-month deployment to Afghanistan. She emphasized that a pilot's success is directly linked to the success of those fighting on the ground. The No. 1 priority for Reading and her colleagues was performing the best they could in order to better support the ground forces.
She credits briefings and after-action reviews for significantly improving mission success because they made her aware of what to look for in terms of threats such as enemy forces, terrain or weather.
"I want to be better because I can better support the ground force and what they were doing," Reading said. "It's not about the pilots up there flying around; it's about what you're doing to support the ground force. Any time you went out and nothing happened to the ground force was, to me, a success. Any time you went out and prevented something from happening was a success."