FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- When she joined the Army, Leslie Herlick was too short to join the Military Police.

But sitting in the cockpit of an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter several years later, she could be as tall as she wanted.

Herlick is now the training resource coordinator for Fort Campbell's Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security. She doesn't talk about her past very much and many who know her have no idea that she was among the first women to take to the skies after Congress lifted a restriction that kept women from flying combat helicopters.

That was in 1993.

Herlick saw an ad in the Army Times looking for women to apply for flight school and decided that's what she wanted to do. It never occurred to her that she might not be accepted.

"I've always liked to do things that maybe other people say they want to do, but I do them," Herlick said. "I'm willing to try."

Then assigned to 1st Psychological Operations Battalion, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the 23-year-old was selected for Warrant Officer Candidate School before attending flight school from the fall 1994 to May 1995 at Fort Rucker, Alabama.

While many of the other students had experience working with motors or even servicing aircraft, Herlick had a lot to learn. And she did.

She learned to fly using instruments, tactic and night vision goggles. She trained on simulators and in small bird TH-67 training helicopters, Huey utility helicopters and OH-58 Kiowa utility choppers.
After getting their wings, graduates were asked to select the helicopters they most wanted to fly.

Herlick selected the Apache and based on her grades and performance, she got her wish.

She spent more time learning to shoot Hellfire missiles and everything else she needed to know. Her young son learned all the parts of helicopters along with her as Herlick studied through November 1995.

"He grew up with mom doing that stuff, so it was never a big deal to him," she said. "He'll tell me now, 'I didn't realize the stuff you did,' because it was normal to him."


Proving herself

Herlick's first duty station as a pilot was 2nd Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).

She was the first female warrant officer in her battalion. Because being a woman in PsycOps was so common, Herlick didn't realize that for some it would make a difference.

"Some of the pilots had never worked with women before," she said. "I really had to prove myself more than a new male coming in. It wasn't enough to be just as good as them. I had to be better."

But Herlick isn't one to back down from a challenge.

"It took a lot of months and hard work to show them I was one of them," she said.


Pilot in command

Herlick shies away from being called a "pioneer." She points out she wasn't the first woman to fly an Apache helicopter and those women who came after her deserve more credit than she does because they flew in combat.

Herlick did win the acceptance of the men who doubted her and three years after being stationed in Fort Campbell she worked her way from the front seat of the helicopter as a co-pilot gunner to the back seat where she was the pilot in command.

In February 1999 she as assigned to the 1st Armored Division, 501st, and stationed in Germany.
She flew a NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo in 2000.

In October of that year she spent some of her time on the ground talking to women who didn't have the same rights as American women. They shared their stories of devastation and loss. Herlick and several other military women shared their stories of empowerment.

She would later go on to other careers that allowed her to help women, veterans and children.


11 days after 9/11

Herlick was just 11 days away from giving birth to her second son when Sept. 11, 2001, changed the trajectory of the United States Army.

She had already submitted her resignation and flying combat missions was no longer an option. She says the women who did are the ones who deserve recognition.

"I had already planned to get out because I wanted to be able to raise my kids and see my kids grow up and take them to football practice and softball," Herlick said.

In the ensuing years she had several careers.

She worked at Survivor Outreach, providing support for Gold Star Families. She was a victim advocate for the Army's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program, providing support for sexual assault victims and helping them through the process of reporting assaults to the military. She worked at a Department of Veterans Affairs call center, providing veterans and Families with information to help them get benefits and guide them through the process.

Herlick also earned bachelor's and master's degrees and decided to become a teacher. She taught second, third and fifth grades at Sango Elementary School in the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System.

Career opportunities led her back to Fort Campbell in 2014.


Coming full circle

Herlick's Army career began right out of high school when she left the Detroit area behind.
At 5-foot-4 "and a half" she was just shy of the height she needed to pursue her first career choice in military law enforcement, but she knew she wanted to be airborne.

After basic training, she went to Fort Bragg for advanced individual training and attended airborne school at Fort Benning, Georgia. She became a jumpmaster, with 42 jumps over her career.

Herlick started work in PsyOps, "winning the hearts and minds of the enemy" in 1989 and took part in Operation Just Cause in Panama in December of that year.

She was disappointed that she couldn't jump or be with the combat units because she was a woman and eventually the desire for more freedom led Herlick apply for flight school.

She was still a pilot in command when she left the Army and while there are few visible reminders of that past in her office at division headquarters, it's always a part of her.

Now her presence is felt in a different way.

Herlick helps plan and carry out training, looks at needs and comes up with ways to address them.
She doesn't waste time wondering what her life may have been like if she were a little taller or dwell too much on things she has done. She's too busy looking ahead.

"That was a long time ago," Herlick said. "I'm more about what I'm doing now."