Army honors its first female helicopter pilot
March 27, 2009
By Alex McVeigh
FORT MYER, Va. (Army News Service, March 27, 2009) -- Members of "Freedom Team Salute" honored retired Col. Sally D. Murphy, the Army's first female helicopter pilot, Wednesday at Fort Myer Spates Community Club.
This year marks the 35th anniversary of Murphy's graduation from the Army Aviation school at Fort Rucker, Ala., when she became the Army's first female helicopter pilot. She joined the Army's Women Army Corps in 1972, and entered the aviation school when women were first allowed in.
Murphy flew helicopters for the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kan., and commanded the 62nd Aviation Company in Germany and the 78th Aviation Battalion (Provisional) in Japan.
Col. Laura J. Richardson, Fort Myer Military Community garrison commander, is one of thousands of women who have followed in Murphy's footsteps as a female aviator. She spoke at the event about how Murphy's shadow loomed over her during aviation training.
"From my own experience as a female helicopter pilot, I understand and appreciate the time, effort, knowledge and dedication it took Col. Murphy to become the Army's first female helicopter pilot," Richardson said. "More importantly, I appreciate the tough road that Col. Murphy forged, making it possible for me and other female Army aviators to follow along in a ready made path, making it so much easier for us."
After Richardson spoke, Judith Matteson of the U.S. Army Women's Museum spoke about the history of women aviators. She mentioned Bessie Coleman, civil aviator, who became the first African-American airplane pilot. Matteson introduced a brief video that highlighted women's contributions to the Army in its many conflicts.
Col. David Griffith, director of Freedom Team Salute spoke next. He mentioned the 1.9 million Soldiers that FTS has recognized before talking about Murphy's contributions to the military.
Freedom Team Salute is an Army program that recognizes the bond between Soldiers, family and their community; celebrates the sacrifices made by all those who support Soldiers; and honors the millions of Army veterans who have served and who remain as a living connection to generations of duty, honor and patriotism.
"Because of (Murphy), women make up 15 percent of the Army, and are present in 91 percent of the Army's occupations," Griffith said.
He then presented Murphy with her official commendation from FTS, and Murphy took the stage.
Her voice broke at times, but she managed to tell the story of how she became the first female Army aviator, from her childhood as a tomboy through her time in Military Intelligence, all the way to her service with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.
"I love being in the Army, I love being an aviator, and I love being in intelligence," she said.
She spoke about how her husband, son and daughter-in-law are all currently serving in the Army, and that she was proud of all of them. She exited the podium to a standing ovation, and the audience of Soldiers, civilians and retired female Soldiers enjoyed a luncheon.
It was Richardson who pointed out the significance of honoring Murphy during Women's History Month, and at Fort Myer, the birthplace of military aviation, and she concluded her remarks with a heartfelt thank-you to Murphy.
"Thank you, Col. 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" Richardson said. "I know your efforts will continue to inspire future female Army aviators for generations."
(Alex McVeigh writes for the Pentagram newspaper at Fort Myer, Va.)