HUNTER ARMY AIRFIELD, Ga. - When Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jennifer Hakeman, an AH-64 "Apache" helicopter pilot with the 1st Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, arrived at the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum Jan. 19 at dusk, she said she was expecting to spend a relatively low-key evening honoring female aviators. Maybe meet an interesting person or two. There'd be food, drinks, a small token of gratitude from the hosts, and that'd be that. After all, through all her years as an Army Aviator, Chief Hakeman said she wanted to be recognized as a pilot, not as a female pilot.

"I tend to shy away from the 'I'm a female doing this,' -- that's just not in my thinking," Chief Hakeman said. "It's not about gender, it's about the person, it's about their heart, it's about what they bring to the fight."

Then Chief Hakeman walked into the museum, surrounded by the legend and regalia of veteran aviators, and found a television newsman and forty-odd Zonta Club members all waiting for her.

That, she said, was when she realized this wasn't just a night about female aviators. This was a night about her as a female aviator.

"I didn't realize I was going to be the epicenter," said Chief Hakeman. "It was just an honor … it hasn't really sunk into me yet," she said.

Members of the Zonta Clubs of Beaufort, Bluffton, Hilton Head Island and Savannah convened Jan. 19 in Pooler, Ga., for their annual Amelia Earhart Reception in which they awarded Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jennifer Hakeman with the Amelia Earhart Achievement Award.

From the moment she arrived, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Hakeman said she was given celebrity treatment. She recorded an interview with WSAV-TV before even crossing the threshold of The Museum Pub. Even after entering the room, it was at least fifteen minutes before she moved beyond the doorway, where she spoke with Zonta Club members.

Zonta International, the umbrella group to which the four chapters belong, is a global organization dedicated to advancing the status of women worldwide through service and advocacy, according to the group's Web site. Amelia Earhart is one of the organization's most famous members, serving in the organization's Boston and New York Chapters. It was in honor of her pioneering courage that Zonta clubs across the world give awards bearing her name.

The Amelia Earhart Achievement Award is given to woman in aviation who exemplify the community service of Zonta International, said Chief Hakeman. At first, she said she was bewildered, not only by the nomination and the fuss, but by even being mentioned in the same sentence as Earhart.

"It was very honoring to me that they would even put me in the same category as Amelia Earhart, as far as going out and being revolutionary," said Chief Hakeman.

Earhart's strength and bravery in the face of the unknown have made her into a kind of a role model, said Chief Hakeman.

Although she downplays it, Chief Hakeman's own history is full of excitement. Linda Warnock, President of the Zonta Club of Hilton Head Island, read aloud Chief Hakeman's biography before rendering the award.

"In reading [Hakeman's] story, I actually had my boyfriend read it to me again tonight as we were driving over," said Warnock. "I'd read her story so many times, and her bio, and I wanted to hear from somebody else. And it still is amazing the things she's accomplished."

To wit: in 1998, Chief Hakeman attended Warrant Officer Candidate School followed by Initial Entry Rotary Wing Training at Fort Rucker, Ala., but left before graduation to devote herself to her Family. Eight years and two children later, she re-enrolled, completing IERW along with the Survival, Escape, Resistance and Evasion training and the AH-64D Apache Longbow Transition Course to earn her Army Aviator Badge in 2009.

Not long after, she deployed with the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade to Salerno, Afghanistan, where she flew more than 600 combat flight hours. Her efforts contributed to the destruction of enemy forces and the safe return of 3rd CAB Soldiers.

Upon redeployment, she became the Battalion Equal Opportunity Leader and Unit Victim Advocate, while simultaneously performed duties as the Brigade Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program Manager.

After hearing her history aloud and reflecting upon it, Chief Hakeman said it had indeed been a long road, but that all of it was worth it.

"There were a lot of people that, because I was a mom, did not support me returning to the Army," said Chief Hakeman. "But when I was in Afghanistan, all that fell away, and I felt like, 'This is what I'm supposed to be doing right now."

And now, almost three years later, Chief Hakeman's peers are celebrating her efforts.

After the award presentation, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jennifer Hakeman posed for photos with each Zonta Club chapter, the members passing their phones and point-and-shoot cameras to commemorate the moment. She had a picture taken with a young girl, who, after meeting Chief Hakeman, promptly pronounced she no longer wished to be a ballerina when she grew up, and wanted to fly helicopters instead.

After taking photos, the club members formed a circle around Chief Hakeman as she recounted her story. They laughed when Chief Hakeman said she felt she'd been prepared to handle insurgents after handing toddlers at the breakfast table.

"I just forget sometimes that I'm such a novelty," she said. "I just don't consider myself any different, or more special or better than anybody else. I just feel lucky I get paid to do what I love. And I would do it for free."