Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Female Pilots Get Their Shot in the Iraqi Skies

TALL AFAR, Iraq -- Buzzing over this northern Iraqi city in her Kiowa scout helicopter, a .50-caliber machine gun and rockets at the ready, Capt. Sarah Piro has proved so skillful in combat missions to support U.S. ground troops that she's earned the nickname "Saint."

In recent months of fighting in Tall Afar, Piro, 26, of El Dorado Hills, Calif., has quietly sleuthed out targets, laid down suppressive fire for GIs in battle and chased insurgents through the narrow alleys of this medieval city -- maneuvering all the while to avoid being shot out of the sky. In one incident, she limped back to base in a bullet-riddled helicopter, ran to another aircraft and returned to the fight 10 minutes later.[snip]

"They call her 'Saint Piro' -- she's just that good," said her co-pilot, Chief Warrant Officer Todd Buckhouse, a 19-year Army veteran who has worked with Piro on two tours with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Iraq.

"There was no one I wanted to hear more on a raid than her. She's a spectacular Army aviator," said Maj. Chris Kennedy, executive officer of the regiment, which is returning home this month.

But it's not all kudos and salutes:

Soldiers who didn't know the women would slight them over the radio, or defer to male aviators in mission briefings rather than the higher-ranking women, Buckhouse said. "If she had any emotion in her voice or even a crack, the guys [ground troops] would say, 'Say again, you're coming in soft.' No one would ever tell that to a guy," he said.

As an officer, Piro said, she walks a fine line between leading from the front and not offending male soldiers who want to pay her courtesies -- by opening doors for her, for example.[snip]

Over dinner in a noisy chow hall, Strye agreed that despite their skill as combat pilots, women face restrictions that make it challenging for them to integrate themselves in mostly male units. One rule bars female and male aviators from entering each other's quarters, while another policy requires escorts for women on base. While aimed at maintaining discipline, the segregation can be isolating, Strye said.

This must be a base specific situation. I have not heard that for every base. I wonder if this is due to segregation of the sexes and safety from their male counterparts or if it is because they are in a far forward operating base and they are higher targets for possible kidnapping or killing by any infiltrators? I seem to recall at the end of 2004 that intelligence indicated the insurgents were desperate to get their hands on female soldiers because of the significant political fallout. However, many female soldiers have been in fire fights, wounded and killed by both direct and indirect fire, so this seems like we have passed that necessity. Is it possible that their commander is being overly cautious?

One of the pilots seems to imply that it is a matter of limiting fraternization. I wonder how many women are on base that this is a concern?

Implicit in the separation, Strye said, is a mistrust that grates on her as a professional. "You trust me to make combat decisions to defeat the enemy," she said, "but don't trust what I do when I go into another person's 'CHU,' " -- a containerized housing unit.

Still, I think the rest of the story is great. These ladies take names and kick butt.

You know...go read the rest.

Female Pilots Get Their Shot in the Iraqi Skies

Cross posted at the Castle

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