166th Aviation female pilots smash male barrier, challenges head-on
February 27, 2013
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FORT HOOD, Texas (Feb. 27, 2013) -- In logistics and intelligence units a fair number of female officers can be found, but at First Army Division West's 166th Aviation Brigade, women aviators are few and far between.
Capt. Amy Ferrell flies Kiowa Warrior helicopters and works as the operations officer at 1st Battalion, 337th Aviation Regiment, at the 166th. She entered the Reserve Officer Training Corps program Middleton Tennessee State University, where she received an Aviation Degree in Aerospace Administration. Her childhood dream was to be an astronaut.
Enter Maj. Pearl Christensen who flies Chinook helicopters, also a battalion operations officer at 2nd Battalion, 291st Aviation Regiment. She participated in both JROTC as well as ROTC, and described how she knew she wanted to fly since the eighth grade.
And finally, Capt. Kyle Campbell, a Black Hawk pilot, is also a battalion operations officer at 1st Battalion, 351st Aviation Regiment, explained that once she decided to join the Army, she knew she wanted to become an aviator. She also has a JROTC and ROTC background, starting at a young age while attending New Mexico Military Institute.
Initial commonalities between the three are that they all have operational-based jobs; ROTC backgrounds; and the known desire to fly from very impressionable stages in life. What this ultimately means, is that these women have always had a strong drive toward aviation.
Campbell's parents own a home construction business. She grew up with a mother who operated heavy equipment and machinery. Much like Ferrell and Christensen, Campbell likes digging her hands in and getting dirty.
The feeling of isolation in the work place rises as a phenomenon that each woman deals with in her own way. Each agrees that the notion of the "good ol' boys club"when male colleagues often band together in a natural social pull towards one another can be counteracted.
Experiencing difficulties connecting from the minority position, feelings of alienation are real. Each has her own tactic to deal with such experiences.
Ferrell says she simply keeps to herself and focuses on her work. Christensen chooses to work longer and harder than her peers to stay competitive. And much like her bombastic personality, Campbell dives in and breaks up the conversation to force her way into the club. Since aviators enjoy a good competition, breaking male barriers is no more than a small challenge for these women to face and overcome.
What overwhelmingly helps keep each of them in balance is their families, a sense of humor, and hobbies outside of work.
As far as these ladies know, no female aviation mentorship organizations exist in the Army to help foster a more cohesive approach to moving up the ranks. However, none of the women seemed particularly interested in such a concept.
The Army Aviation Association of America is the go-to organization to join and offers ample support, gender aside. Only Campbell had a female mentor/role model, Lt. Col. Jenness Steele, her former executive officer, whom she looks to for guidance and counsel.
Steele, currently chief of Air/Special Operations Forces Aviation Plans at Special Operations Command Central at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., said Kyle is a quick study and a very hard worker.
"What impressed me the most was her ability to listen and work through difficult times," she said.
"I still remember what I was told as a young aviation officer: 'You have to be twice as good, twice as often to be successful as a woman in aviation,'" she continued. "Honestly, Kyle helped me too. She showed me this is not true. You just have to do your job and do it well; nothing more than your male counterparts. Kyle didn't stand out among her peers because she was a woman. She stood out because she is very good at what she does."
The best part of the job for Christensen is working with the Deploying Expeditionary Forces who are on the brink of deployment and being trained for war by the 166th. For Ferrell and Campbell, it's the people.
"When you have good people with good senses of humor who are good at their jobs, it makes a world of difference, and I am so happy we have this at our unit," said Ferrell.