By Melony Bagwell, INSCOMMarch 27, 2017
FORT BELVOIR, Va. -- Inspired by some of history's great female aviators like Amelia Earhart and World War II Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), Army Chief Warrant Officer 5 Cathy Jarrell, command chief warrant officer and brigade standardization officer for the 116th Military Intelligence Brigade, Fort Gordon, Georgia, always knew she wanted to fly.
As a young girl, Jarrell lived near Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina and loved watching B-52 aircraft flying over her home. The daughter of a former Air Force civil engineer, she enjoyed being around the base and the planes and often told her dad that she would like to fly one day.
"My dad was always supportive of my desire to become a pilot," Jarrell recalled. "He encouraged me and always told me I could be anything I wanted to be."
Jarrell joined the U.S. Army in 1989 and was selected to attend the Warrant Officer Flight Training Program. She was appointed an Army warrant officer in May 1991 and is a graduate of the Initial Entry Rotary Wing Course at Fort Rucker, Alabama.
"Flight school was the hardest school I've attended. It was such a long period of time, and they were constantly watching you," Jarrell said. "Flight school could last anywhere between nine months and one year depending on the aircraft you are assigned to fly."
Upon graduation, Jarrell was assigned to pilot the UH-1H "Huey" helicopter.
"The Huey is a great aircraft, very forgiving and basic and it was a great workhorse in Vietnam," she said.
Although Jarrell enjoyed flying the Huey, she wanted to try another airframe. So she volunteered for AH-64 Apache helicopter training and was selected.
In the summer of 1993, Jarrell and two other female Army pilots made history when they graduated from flight school and were qualified to fly a combat airframe. Earlier that year, then Secretary of Defense Les Aspin lifted restrictions, allowing females to fly combat missions.
Her first assignment on the Apache was with the 101st Airborne Division in 1993.
"The guys in the unit were like big brothers who will pick on you, but wouldn't let anyone else [do the same]," Jarrell said of her male counterparts.
Jarrell's desire to fly did not wane. She also got qualified on the AH-64D, C12U, C12J, C12J1, and RC-12N, RC-12K, RC-12X and later became an instructor pilot on several of those aircraft.
"I believe women have always had a lot of opportunities in the military and especially now that many of the military occupational series are open to them," she said.
During her time flying combat aircraft, Jarrell flew in a number of combat situations while supporting NATO-led Operation Joint Endeavor, NATO-led Stabilization Forces, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines, and Operation Enduring Freedom-Afghanistan.
"All of my deployments have held an element of excitement and mystery," Jarrell said. "The 'Mad Max' drive to Baghdad was among the most exhilarating."
In her current position at the 116th MI Brigade, Jarrell oversees the brigade's warrant officers and ensures the standardization of the brigade's aviation operations.
Her leadership considers her a pioneer for women in Army aviation.
"Cathy has had an outstanding career as an Army aviator and a leader," said Col. Daniel Mettling, commander, 116th MI Brigade. "I am fortunate to have such a trailblazer on my team."
Along with her incredible career, Jarrell considers her 27-year marriage to husband Van, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, and her daughter Megan, among her biggest accomplishments. She credits her success in the military to her husband.
"He has always been there, gives me guidance, been supportive of me and a great person to talk to," Jarrell said. "He had to give a lot to allow me to stay in."
As for daughter Megan, she is in her second year at the U.S. Military Academy West Point and following in her mom's footsteps. She hopes to become either an aviator or military intelligence officer when she graduates. Her goal is to carry on the Army tradition set by both her mom and dad.
"I am so proud of Megan," Jarrell said. "I encourage her to be positive and always show enthusiasm for what she is doing -- no matter what the task."
Jarrell believes she has succeeded in her career because of the support she received from leadership, fellow warrant officers and good noncommissioned officers.
"I tell Megan to find the best warrants and NCOs around and get under their wings," she said. "They will keep you grounded and on track."
Asked what the one thing she would change about her career so far, Jarrell said, "In these 27 years I have been treated so well and been given so many opportunities to succeed. I honestly would not change one thing."