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    The spinning blades of a helicopter in Afghanistan created an Apache pilot in Alabama.

    The spinning blades of a helicopter in Afghanistan created an Apache pilot in Alabama.

    Photo By Sgt. Andrew McNeil | Aircraft from the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, conduct a...... read more read more



    Story by Sgt. Andrew McNeil 

    3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division

    HUNTER ARMY AIRFIELD, Ga. - While in Army flight school at Fort Rucker, Alabama, all prospective helicopter pilots hit a point where they need to rank their airframe. In the conventional Army, there are three main rotary-wing airframes used: Chinook, Apache and Black Hawk. Each platform has various models with their own unique mission sets, and for most Army Aviators the airframe that is assigned in flight school will be what they fly for the rest of their military career.

    The process of selection can be stressful for the students, because there is a select number of slots for each airframe and the order of merit list determines when they get to pick. The order of merit list is the future aviator’s ranking in the class. The ranking is determined by the various tests, grades and tasks the Soldiers complete during the program.

    “In the class, we were feeling each other out, because each class has its own personality, '' said Capt. Lauren Smart, commander of B Troop, 3rd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division. “Some classes everyone really wants Chinooks, so you talk amongst your classmates to see what they want and find out how likely you are to get your airframe of choice.”

    But for Smart, the choice was not as clear as it was for some of her classmates, so during her time in flight school she studied each platform to develop an understanding of their missions and capabilities.

    During this study she found an article that was published about Capt. Lindsay Heisler and Chief Warrant Officer 2 David Woodward, AH-64 Apache pilots assigned to the 101st Aviation Regiment, and their actions in Bagram, Afghanistan.

    “The article was about two pilots at Fort Campbell, a CW2 [chief warrant officer 2] and a captain, who were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, which is the highest award that can be awarded to someone for valor and bravery in battle in aviation,” Smart said. “I really focused on the part of one of them being a female captain. This stood out because I could envision myself in that role.”

    Smart was a lieutenant in flight school and was told that for commissioned officers most of their flying was done while they were lieutenants, Smart explained. There is a perception that as aviation officers progress in rank their schedule become too busy for them to spend time flying. The article about Heisler dispelled that myth and proved to Smart that commissioned officers—no matter the rank—do fly and conduct missions.

    As Smart read on, she learned about Heisler and Woodward's actions. On the night of December 5, 2015, Heisler and Woodward were pulling security for 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment MH-47 Chinook helicopters tasked with conducting air assault operations for the 75th Ranger Regiment.

    That night, the Rangers called the 160th SOAR for an air lift. As the MH-47 Chinook helicopter was about to touchdown, enemy combatants opened fire. Woodward, sitting in the pilot seat, placed the Apache between the friendly forces and insurgents drawing their attention away from the Rangers. Heisler, in the gunner’s seat, began to provide suppressing fire. The combined actions of Heisler and Woodward allowed the Chinook to land, load and extract the ground troops.

    After reading the article, Heisler became a role model for Smart.

    “At first I did not want to go Apache until that article came out,” Smart said. “It completely turned me around, because that is the mission I want to do; I want to protect people.”

    Smart said that she saw the person she aspired to be in Heisler. Heisler was a strong leader and woman. Smart made up her mind and hoped her hard work and studying placed her high enough on the order of merit list to get her choice.

    The day came and the class buzzed with excitement, Smart said. Until that point, the students did not know the order of merit list, so they just filed in, took their seats and hoped their names were called quickly.

    “I was nervous I would not get my airframe,” Smart said. “Every name that is called you are super nervous and you're biting your nails thinking, oh no what if I don't get it.”

    Smart’s name was eventually called.

    “Oh, thank god there were still Apaches available,” Smart said, as she recounted what ran through her mind after hearing her name.

    She popped up from her seat and walked to the white board erasing the tally mark under the Apache claiming her airframe, Smart continued. She then entered the advanced airframe course of flight school and began learning about the AH-64 Apache airframe.

    Smart completed her training at Fort Rucker in May 2017. She was then stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. While there, Smart was presented with the unique opportunity to meet her hero.

    “I was a company commander, and she was a platoon leader in 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade,” said Maj. Lindsay Heisler, the woman who inspired Smart and now an observer coach trainer at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center at Hohenfels, Germany. “She was actually my husband’s platoon leader, he was also an Apache Troop Commander, at the time.”

    Smart formally met Heisler during an event hosted by her unit.

    “I heard a lot about her from my husband and others in her unit before I met her,” Heisler said. “Everyone always said great things about Lauren. They said she was an extremely competent Aviator, a fantastic officer, and someone who you want to be around and work with. Once I got to know her, it just confirmed everything I had already heard about her.”

    After being introduced, Smart told Heisler that she was the reason Smart picked the Apache and Heisler was her role model as an aviator, officer and woman. Heisler and Smart quickly developed a strong working relationship and became friends.

    One of the things the two women pilots share is that they are both graduates of the United States Military Academy at West Point. Heisler graduated with the class of 2012 and Smart graduated with the class of 2015.

    In 2019, they were presented with a dream opportunity for any West Point alumni. The 82nd CAB was selected to conduct the flyover of the December 14, 2019, Army versus Navy football game.

    “Participating in an Army-Navy game flyover is an absolute bucket-list item for a West Point graduate,” Heisler said. “There’s nothing quite like flying over a stadium ahead of an Army-Navy football game.”

    Heisler and Smart performed the fly over at the Lincoln Financial Field located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, during halftime. Heisler was in the lead Apache while Smart was in the rear, but it was the flight back to North Carolina that Smart remembers most.

    “I actually flew back with her,” Smart said, explaining how they were in the same aircraft on their way back to Fort Bragg. “It was cool to come full circle. I got to fly with the woman who inspired me to fly the Apaches. It was unreal.”



    Date Taken: 08.26.2021
    Date Posted: 08.26.2021 13:37
    Story ID: 403964

    Web Views: 630
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