News: Officer strives for success
BAGHDAD, Iraq – Standing in front of roughly 200 Soldiers from 603rd Aviation Support Battalion May 17 at Camp Buering, Kuwait, a slim female figure raises her voice for quiet.
Beside her, butcher paper is covered with phonetically spelled Arabic words. The class on Arabic language, history and culture is about to begin, and 2nd Lt. Heather Wilson, military intelligence officer for the 603rd ASB, Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, wants to make sure everyone hears what she has to say.
"My hope is that every Soldier, every small interaction, can be a positive one," she said about the purpose behind her class. "I think that it's so important to learn the culture when you go to that country."
Learning, say Soldiers working with Wilson, is something at which she excels. Already, they say, Wilson shows remarkable promise as an officer and a leader through hard work, high initiative and a stick-to-itiveness rarely seen in young officers.
"She's great," said Sgt. Kelvin Cooley, 603rd ASB military intelligence non-commissioned officer in charge. "I mean, she's really willing to learn."
One example is learning the Arabic language itself, said Cooley. After taking an Arabic college class, Wilson began studying Arabic on her own time and can be found at her desk with an Arabic language primer developing her skills in this difficult language on many nights.
"She's really dedicated and always willing to learn and she takes initiative," said Cooley. "Arabic is probably one of the hardest languages to learn beside Farsi or Urdu."
Despite being described as a dedicated MI officer, Wilson's varied life didn't necessarily point to that vocation.
Mostly raised in Lusby, Md., Wilson didn't set out to become an Army MI officer. Her thoughts were on much loftier goals.
"Actually, I wanted to be an astronaut, as cheesy as that sounds," she said.
As a small child she lived near Cape Canaveral's Kennedy Space Center. A tour of the complex hooked her on the concept of flying in space and piloting in general.
"Later I re-evaluated my skills and how clumsy I was," she joked. "Five concussions later, I decided that I shouldn't be a pilot."
The intrepid young girl turned to art, only to become a professional painter as a pre-teen. Completing her first oil painting at 12, Wilson entered it into several art shows where she won honorable mentions and notoriety.
After selling several paintings locally, Wilson, who was 16 and attending Patuxent High School in Maryland, tired of the art business and retired as a professional painter. Creating art wasn't challenging enough, she said, and she was looking for something that tested her limits.
Wilson attended college at Colorado State University at Fort Collins, Co. The first of her family to go to college, she set her sights on the Army and, specifically, being a military intelligence officer. Both of her parents were enlisted in the Navy, said Wilson, but that isn't why she wanted to become an Army officer.
She wanted to be an Army officer because it seemed like it would be as much of a challenge as she could handle.
"I love that the Army is hard for me. I love that," she said. "You definitely learn your limits."
Lt. Col. Adrian Farrall, commander, 4th Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, 3rd CAB, was Wilson's battalion commander in the Military Science course at Colorado State and remembers a remarkable young cadet who thrived on challenges.
"She was a great student and a great cadet," he said. "She took a full course load and her cadet work, but she was more than able to deal with it."
On top of coursework and cadet studies, Wilson volunteered as a sexual assault and rape counselor at the school.
"She powered right through any challenges she faced," said Farrall.
For officers the job you wish to get is not necessarily the job the Army wants you to have. Wilson's goal was to become a military intelligence officer. Her mentors all had that same goal—make Wilson a military intelligence officer.
"All five branches of the military revolve around those guys on the ground kicking in the doors," said Wilson about the ground troops fulfilling the Army's daily mission in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Wilson knew intelligence and operations went hand-in-hand, and you can't be successful without good military intelligence. "I wanted to be a part of that," she said.
She was also looking toward the future. Knowing she would deploy to the Middle East once she was commissioned, she began studying Arabic and Middle Eastern culture in college. Using that knowledge hinged on her becoming a military intelligence officer.
When it finally came time to learning her branch, Farrall took his time giving her the information.
"He messed with me for about 10 minutes," she said. "He said, 'Have a soda,' and I was like, 'Tell me what my branch is!'"
Finally, the wait was over. Farrall told her she would become an MI officer.
"I'm really lucky I got to do something I have such a passion for," Wilson said. "I'm glad I had good mentors to steer me in the right direction."
Since joining the ranks of the 3rd Infantry Division's Combat Aviation Brigade after being commissioned in May 2006, Wilson has proven MI was the right choice.
"(Wilson) brings enthusiasm, technical expertise, learned from her intelligence courses, and a tremendous work ethic and an extreme willingness to listen and learn which I personally feel is one of the most important traits for a young officer," said Lt. Col. William McGarrity, the 603rd ASB commander.
Because the 603rd ASB is a support unit, Wilson's work centers on ground intelligence, whereas the other battalions maintain an air focus, McGarrity said. She provides route and enemy analysis which allows the support unit to understand, from a ground role, what the enemy is doing and is most likely going to do. She also works with the brigade intelligence elements to keep the 603rd ASB