Military women who make a difference
November 10, 2015
Women have become an integral part of the United States military whether serving in the United States or overseas.
Meet three Fallon women, two in their 30s and one in her late 20s. Two of them are currently serving at Naval Air Station Fallon, while the third, who left military service, deployed three times including two tours to Afghanistan as a helicopter pilot.
THE THRILL OF FLYING
In her two tours in Afghanistan, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Lacey Szekely flew Black Hawk helicopters in support of medical missions that required suppressive fire in case of any attacks from the Taliban or other militants.
Bored with her life in college and not seeing her continue with a high-school dream of becoming a high-school French teacher, Szekely began to look at enlisting in the military.
"I wanted to join the Marine Corps and it was right around 2001 when 9/11 hit," she said. "They didn't want a French linguist … they wanted people speaking Arabic."
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Szekely said she wondered what she was going to do with her life, but the answer came from her family.
"My mom and dad were both pilots, my sister uncles, aunt, everyone was a pilot. I love aviation so why don't I see what happens," she said. "I got my private pilots license, it was great, but again 9/11 happened, and the airlines were not hiring. My sister was going to flight school in the Army to become a pilot, and I was living in Arizona at that time."
A year later Szekely enlisted in the U.S. Army to follow her sister's lead and attended flight school at Fort Rucker, Ala., Szekely, though, felt like a young woman entrenched in the past because of her fascination with the Huey UH-60 helicopter that flew thousands of missions in Vietnam.
"I just missed the Huey experience," Szekely said of her aspiration to fly the helicopter so readily associated with Vietnam. "But the Black Hawk took over the missions."
Flight school challenged Szekely, though.
"It taught me getting up 4:30 every morning, and running six to seven miles in formation," she remembers.
Studying for each test took hours, but, in her own words, she made it.
"You can do whatever you can put your mind to," she said, adding failure is not an option.
And for Szekely, flying became part of her DNA.
Although Szekely preferred flying the Black Hawk, her second choice focused on the huge CH-47 Chinook, a twin-engine, tandem rotor heavy-lift helicopter used for troop movement and hauling supplied. The Black Hawk became the newest helicopter in the Army's fleet in 1979, and since that time, it has been used primarily for assault, Special Operations, VIP transport, Medevac and troop transport.
If Szekely wanted to serve her country, she deployed in 2006-2007 to Egypt and to Afghanistan twice. Her second deployment took her to Bagram Air Field in the northwestern part of the country, a short 30-miles from the capital city of Kabul. After the year deployment, Szekely returned to the United States but in 2011, she found herself supporting Operation Enduring Freedom again, this time flying out of Kandahar Air Field in the southern part of Afghanistan.
"2009 was definitely challenging, a very busy time in Afghanistan," she said. " I flew out of RC (Regional Command) East (which included areas in the northeastern part of the country) and there were a lot of troops."
While Medevac helicopters picked up the wounded, Szekely's crew and other helicopters provided fire support at all hours of the day.
Szekely said being in the military has given her a better perspective on the role of veterans, those who either lived before Szekely or grew up with her generation or those who have entered the military after she left.
"A veteran's role is to help other veterans and other service members," she said.
Szekely said she realized the importance of serving. During flight training Szekely and other students attended a Veterans Day parade and met veterans from the Vietnam era who discussed their service.
"They had a bond. They were the best of friends."
AVIATION IS IN HER BLOOD
Exposure to the Navy eventually led Lt. Carolyn Work to becoming an officer and pilot. Born in Virginia Beach, Va., Work is the youngest child of three. Her father served in the Navy as a pilot, and she referred to her mother as the backbone of the family for 24 years.
"I was the daughter of a military family who moved around a ton. I hated high school. I didn't like it too much," she said of those years. "It gets better."
With Work attending high school, she felt strongly about her future. She did not want to be subjected to a 9-to-5 desk job. Adventure seemed to carry Work away to her future career.
"I was taken to one too many air shows in my life," she laughed.
Work said her father shipped her to Wisconsin for the 16-year-old to learn how to fly from her grandfather, which she called a "super cool experience."
Flying, though, cost money, and with her father leaving the military to become a civilian again, Work said the family didn't have enough money for her to continue her lessons. Being the youngest of three children, Work vowed she wouldn't become a burden on her parents' finances.
She enrolled at the University of Florida and received a Navy ROTC scholarship.
"At that time women could not be on submarines, but they can now, but even if I could, I didn't want to do that," she said.
So Works had a choice … either to become a surface warfare officer or aviator. The choice was clear to her.
"My dad will kill me if I don't become a pilot," she recounted. "My option is what kind of airplane to fly."
Once she graduated from Florida in 2008 and entered flight school at Pensacola, Fla., Work didn't know if she wanted to fly jets or an E-2 Hawkeye, an all-weather, carrier- capable tactical airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft. She decided to learn how to fly jets, and training took her two-and-half years before she earned her wings in February 2011.
Work returned to Virginal Beach where she was assigned to VFA 106, F/A-18 Hornet and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet Fleet Replacement Squadron stationed at Naval Air Station Oceana. One year later, she was assigned to the VFA 31 Tomcatters, where she flew a single-seat Hornet of which she is proud.
"I was the first female pilot that they had in their 78-year history," she said. "I later went on a combat deployment on the USS George H. W. Bush for nine months."
On board the aircraft carrier, according to Work, were eight or nine helicopter pilots, two E2 Hawkeye pilots and two F/A-18 Hornet pilots.
While on the Bush, the aircraft carrier spent time in both the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea flying missions over Afghanistan and later over Iraq as part of Operation Enduring Resolve. Once the deployment ended, Work obtained more qualifications and became a student in Fallon at the Naval Air Warfare Development Center as an adversary student. Work said her specialty is in "bad-guy tactics" and knows the capabilities of threat nations.
HELPING OTHERS FACE THEIR STRUGGLES
Lt. Stephanie (Ellis) Brashear took another route to the military after 9/11. A physician at Naval Air Station Fallon, Brashear considers her rise in the military "an unique experience." Brashear graduated from high school in 1999 and 10 years later, she received her medical diploma.
"Eventually, I attended Virginia Tech for medical school and joined the Navy after that. I spent a year in San Diego practicing OB GYN (obstetrics and gynecology), and they sent me out to Okinawa, Japan, for three year to do medicine with the Marines after a whole year of doing family medicine. The Navy training program is a little different that the civilian experience."
Yet, her pursuit of helping others has not followed a straight path. Brashear considered herself an average high school student who earned a place on the honor roll a few times. While in college, though, Brashear volunteered at a Veterans Administration clinic in Cincinnati, Ohio, to assisted many patients suffering chronic pain.
"That's when I decided to do medicine and provide medical care to services members through the VA or an active duty population. I wound up choosing to do that," she said.
According to Brashear, talking to veterans or active-duty personnel solidified her choice to work with the military. This gave Brashear a better appreciation of veterans and their service. Brashear said she wanted to experience the front line, but the Navy would not accommodate her request. Instead, her first assignment to Okinawa, though, gave Brashear an opportunity to learn more about herself, her profession and other cultures.
"I love the adventure I brings. I love going to random places that I know nothing about and seeing how other people live and learning about other cultures," she explained.
Brashear traveled to the Philippines, Taiwan, Mongolia and Japan, many of the trips taken for humanitarian assistance.
"It's been a great opportunity to see beyond small-town American and how far your career choices take you," she added.
Others have asked Brashear if practicing medicine as a woman in the Navy has been challenging.
"Yes and no. I think in some ways the military embraces both genders in everything," she said. "Deployments are very different from the front line in Afghanistan or on a ship."
Whether serving halfway around the world in Japan or in Fallon, Brashear has seen much in her short time with the Navy.
One thing I learned in operational medicine is that I really see the day-to-day and other struggles personnel and families go through," she said. "Besides deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, the young men and women sent off to a foreign country at a young age go through new cultures and military rules."
Over the years, Brashear has grown more sympathetic to the daily struggles the public doesn't see. She said not everyone in the military sees combat, but that doesn't mean they do not have struggles; however, Brashear said sailors and Marines appear to be more comfortable during deployments than being in garrison (home base).
"Some people struggle more when they come back from deployment because the mission is clear and specific."
While in Okinawa, Brashear experienced a new culture and worked with young Marines, but in Fallon she has had the opportunity to see more veterans and learn of their life experiences they had in the military years ago.
The stories for her mean so much more now than when she first entered the Navy.