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Minnesota National Guard
Women take to the skies on Christmas

While their families, children and friends back home sat down for Christmas Eve dinner, two all-female UH-60 Black Hawk crews woke up early Christmas morning and began preparing for a unique mission

Female Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment spent their Christmas Day executing a 100 percent female-run flight mission From the intelligence briefings in the morning, to the two four-woman flight crews, all the way to the fuel teams, the mission consisted of only women

Black Hawk pilot Capt Andrea Ourada, said the mission was not about busting open stereotypes or challenging the status quo, but rather about showing people how much women in the Army do already

"It's not about proving you can do the job you're already qualified to do, it's about how we have the capability to do it," Ourada said "Our Army is a lot more diverse than I think we realize"

Ourada flew in the lead aircraft with Pilot Chief Warrant Officer 4 Teresa Burgess and Crew Chiefs Staff Sgt Michelle Smith, and Sgt Leilani Aho The trail aircraft was piloted by Chief Warrant Officer 3 Angela Barros and Capt Phoebe Inigo with Crew Chiefs Sgt Michelle Aina and Sgt Crisaron Voeuth

The crews flew all over Baghdad picking up VIPs including US Rep Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota The crews also transported a general and several Soldiers during the general aviation support mission The mission went off just as planned, and while the women associated with the mission respected the unique nature of the flight, they wanted their fellow Soldiers to see the event as no big deal

"It's just another day at the office," Aina said before the flight

While an all-female mission might challenge the perception of combat gender roles in today's Army, Burgess said that's not what the flight was all about

"I don't think this will change any gender stereotypes that are already present, and I'm not here to change any minds," she said "We are doing it because we can"

Ourada added that the Black Hawk doesn't care who runs the controls and soon a flight of this nature will be commonplace

"It can be the norm," she said "That aircraft operates the same way whether it's a male or female behind the controls" The crew executed its Christmas Day mission and returned safely with no fanfare or exposure The mission appeared just like any other

However, Barros said the mission was a reminder that there is still a great deal of work to be done before it can be considered just another mission

"Women in the military have overcome some huge barriers," she said "I believe this mission will be an eye opener, but unfortunately, I'm afraid the stereotypes will always be there It's how our society was brought up Even at the end of 2007, [we're considering this] an historic event"

The National Guard unit houses Soldiers from Washington, Minnesota and Hawaii

Not only was the mission all female, but all three states were represented by the women executing it

Lt. Col. Gregory Thingvold, 2-147 Commander, commented on how important the flight was, for not only the National Guard, but for young women back home

"This demands attention," he said "Young ladies need good role models in their life Our culture twists around to a fault what women should strive for in life Here is an opportunity to showcase women in combat executing a combat mission I want young women around this country to see these amazing women in action"

Burgess said that no matter what this mission does to the Army's gender stereotypes, it is still very important to the youth of the United States to see what women in the Army do on a daily basis

"The one thing I hope this mission does is show little girls that they can do this," she said "A lot of them don't seem to know this"

By Sgt Dale Sweetnam
Task Force 49 Public Affairs Office

Dec. 25, 2nd Battalion, 147th Assault Helicopter Regiment All-Women Flight photo gallery

Video interviews with Capt. Ourada, Chief Warrant Officer Barros, and Capt. Inigo about working on an all-female helicopter crew.

B-roll video taken during mission.

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