New York Army National Guard women are at home in the sky
March 21, 2011
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RONKONKOMA, N.Y. -- The women who keep the New York Army National Guard flying found inspiration in the skies and on the ground.
Spc. Amy Klemm, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Michelle Roxby and 2nd Lt. Amy Bonilla are among the 1,500 women in the New York Army National Guard, and they routinely take to the skies, logging flying time in Black Hawk helicopters. They're Soldiers in Company B, 142nd Aviation Assault Helicopter Battalion based in Ronkonkoma, N.Y.
"I like to fly and see different things," said Klemm, a Black Hawk crew chief. "The people in aviation are great people."
Klemm's inspirations were both remote and close to home; aviator Amelia Earhart and her Vietnam veteran father. While attending junior high, she did a research paper on Earhart, Klemm said.
"She was able to fly an aircraft, and she was the first woman to fly across the country," Klemm said of Earhart.
Klemm's father, who served in the infantry and received the Purple Heart, told her great things about the military and encouraged her to enlist, Klemm said. She joined the New York Army National Guard because she wanted to be close to her family and community, she added.
Three years later Klemm went to war herself, logging about 500 hours as a CH-47 Chinook helicopter door gunner with the 3rd Battalion, 126th Aviation Regiment, Massachusetts Army National Guard in Afghanistan in 2006. While there, she volunteered to go to Iraq with her own unit. She returned from Afghanistan, and after a month off, deployed with her unit to Iraq.
Woman's History Month validates the role of women in the military and other professions, Klemm said.
Roxby, a Black Hawk pilot-in-command, said she heard the call for Army aviation in 2003, while deployed to Iraq with the New York Army National Guard's 442 Military Police Company. She and other Soldiers lived near a helicopter landing zone in Iraq, she recalled.
"When we were living next to the (landing zone), it re-ignited my interest in aviation," said Roxby.
Her family also inspired her, Roxby said. She enjoys the variety that aviation offers, she added.
"Every day is different," she said. "As a pilot-in-command, I like mentoring people and bringing out the best in them."
She also enjoys flying, finding herself in what she called "special moments" while behind the controls of the helicopter.
"Sometimes it just hits you and you think, 'wow this is amazing. I'm really lucky I'm able to do this,'" Roxby said.
One of the pilots Roxby mentors is Bonilla. She initially joined an Army Reserve military police unit in 2007, Bonilla said.
"I knew I wanted to be an officer, but I wanted to get some enlisted experience first," she explained.
Inspired by her parents and professors, Bonilla earned her commission through the St. John's University ROTC program and her aircraft operations degree from Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology. Then came the opportunity to become a Black Hawk pilot, which she said was good timing.
"I felt excited," Bonilla said. "My hard work finally paid off. My dreams were coming true."
Bonilla describes herself as a "new stick" in the unit, said that she focuses on flying while in the air, and only remembers the thrill of it when she's on the ground.
"It's like another day at the office," she said of flying a Black Hawk helicopter. "I'm just another Soldier doing my job."