By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterJuly 5, 2012
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (July 5, 2012) -- It's not often that people have the opportunity to know someone who paved the way for others to follow, but those who knew retired CW5 Mary C. Smalley had the chance to know a pioneer for women in Aviation.
Soldiers, friends and Family members gathered at Searcy Funeral Home in Enterprise to remember and pay respects to Smalley June 22.
Smalley passed away June 14 after a battle with brain cancer, but her legacy lives on with her many achievements throughout her career in the Army. She is most recognized as the first female Aviator to achieve the rank of Chief Warrant Officer 4 in 1989, and the first female regular Army warrant officer and Aviator to achieve the rank of Chief Warrant Officer 5 in 1995, according to her husband, Col. Brian W. Smalley, dean of the U.S. Army School of Aviation Medicine.
The colonel spoke of his wife as very humble and never one to boast about her accomplishments -- he himself not having known about them until he found a file containing her many achievements.
"Mary was never one to brag about herself," he said. "I was looking for passports for a cruise that we were going to take when I stumbled upon a file that she had kept. I had no idea she had accomplished so much."
His discovery prompted him to put Smalley up for the Aviation Hall of Fame, which she was inducted into in 2007.
"She had no idea that I was talking to the hall of fame folks and they agreed to keep it under wraps because I wanted to be the one to tell her," said the colonel. "I will never forget the look on her face. She was proud, yet embarrassed at the same time that she was being recognized."
Smalley's Army career began after her graduation from high school in 1973 when she decided to enlist so that she would be able to put herself through college, said the colonel. During her enlistment, there was an initiative to get female Soldiers into the warrant officer flight training program.
"Mary scored extremely high on the Aviation flight aptitude test and was accepted into the program," he said. "She went on to become the 13th female to graduate from flight school in 1976, and then became the first female Aviator in the 6th Air Cavalry Brigade at Fort Hood, Texas," where she served under then Col. Robert Molinelli, flying UH-1 and OH-58 helicopters.
It was Molinelli, who later attained the rank of major general, that positioned her to become the first female rated in operating the AH-1 Cobra helicopter, said the colonel. At the time, however, females were not authorized to be attack helicopter pilots, despite completing the full transition.
She went on to serve in assignments in Korea where she served with the 377th MEDEVAC and flew missions out of Taegu before returning to Fort Rucker in 1980 where she completed her bachelor's degree in aeronautical science while serving as a training, advising and counseling officer for the Warrant Officer Candidate School, he said.
"That was one of her favorite assignments," said the colonel. "She was then assigned as a night vision goggle instructor pilot and she completed her Master's degree in Aviation management while working full time."
She went on to serve in different assignments throughout Alaska before returning to Fort Rucker in 1991 when she was selected to serve as the adjutant for the U.S. Army Precision Helicopter Team, he said. She eventually returned to the flight line as an instructor pilot for initial entry rotary wing students, which served her well as one of her passions was teaching.
Smalley retired in 1999 after 24 years of service and more than 3,000 flight hours as a master Aviator, 1,000 of which were as an instructor pilot, according to the colonel.
"She never wanted to be the center of attention, but I'm pretty sure she was happy [for the recognition]," he said.