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Minnesota National Guard
For this Minnesota family, love is a battlefield

Regina McCombs, Star Tribune
Maj Trish Baker of the Minnesota National Guard put on body armor while preparing to fly a Black Hawk helicopter Temporarily in Kuwait, she will soon be serving as a senior logistician for her brigade in Iraq

Last update: August 19, 2008 - 12:10 AM

It might not be unusual these days for a daughter to follow her dad into the family business But it is unusual when that means flying an Army Black Hawk helicopter into a war zone

That's what Maj Trish Baker is doing She is deploying on her second tour in Iraq with the Minnesota National Guard's 34th Combat Aviation Brigade, the command unit for 2,500 Soldiers who were deployed this month for a year's tour of duty

Baker has been a helicopter pilot in the army for 10 years Her father, First Sgt Norm Baker, a Vietnam veteran, will be in Iraq with her at an air base north of Baghdad He asked to be transferred to the unit to be with her

When he returns home, he will retire from a 20-year career in the military

For Trish Baker, flying helicopters is the culmination of a girlhood dream growing up in a military family

"I was one of those kids who knew exactly what they were going to do when they grew up," she said "I knew that I would be in the service It was helicopters and it was going to be the Army Guard"

Baker is one of 11 female pilots in the Minnesota Army National Guard On a recent training flight in Minnesota, she donned night vision goggles to practice tactical landings in the dark outside of Red Wing Peeling off her 40 pounds of gear afterward, she said she doesn't think of herself as a pioneer

"What I think about when others see me in an external fashion is that this is not aberrant This can be normal," she said "To be a helicopter pilot, an aviator, a National Guardsman This is normal and I don't want to be seen as the exception There are women ahead of me; I'm not breaking brush"

Fragile reminder

Baker's first deployment came in the rush to take Iraq in 2003

She piloted assault missions under fire and transported VIPs that included generals, sheiks and celebrities Robin Williams and Bruce Willis

The conditions were rough and the circumstances volatile On her desk at the Guard headquarters in St Paul are the worn and dusty boots from her first Iraq deployment and her old Nomex aviator gloves, now worn out There is a small tea cup on the stand, too She collects tea cups But it is also a reminder

"It's one of those things that reminds of the rigor that goes into the deployment and when you think things are awful they are not," she said "It helps me remind me how good I've got it sometimes This particular one helps remind me that success is fragile, it takes a lot to attain success and once you do, it's beautiful and exquisite, but it doesn't take much to shatter it and break it"

While deployed, she'll share an occasional breakfast with her father at the mess hall and perhaps a walk along the razor wire perimeter when they get a chance But both will be busy with their duties

This time Baker will spend less time in the air She is the senior logistician for the brigade, meaning she is responsible for coordinating everything from fuel supplies to uniforms to where Soldiers will sleep But there still will be time for flying

"There's a small amount of trepidation that goes with going back into a combat zone but much less than the first time," she said "This time I know exactly what to expect I can say, of the 359 days I spent on the first tour, that I could count on two hands how many times I was actually shot at and could count on two fingers the number of times I was probably in mortal danger So out of 359 days those are incredible odds"

Trust in Mom

That is small consolation to at least one member of Baker's military family, her 7-year-old son, Zach He was too young to remember her leaving the first time But this time he has worries Zach has a pretty good understanding of the concept of war, even though he said he thinks he missed half of it when it was on TV

"One country doesn't want another country to be there, they don't want the country to exist, so they bomb it," he said "It means you have to battle and some people die and that kind of stuff"

Baker keeps a picture of Zach in one of her pockets when she is flying, and talking about him is the only real time this Soldier's exterior seems like it might crack She flew him down to Fort Sill, Okla, with his grandmother when the unit had an official deployment ceremony She's now temporarily stationed in Kuwait

Zach will stay with his father during his mother's deployment The two are divorced but remain close He'll also have a host of grandparents and cousins to support him while his mom is gone

But Zach said one thing is almost always on his mind He says it will be one of the things he tells his mother when he sees her for the last time before she leaves for war

"It's all about trust It's always been my thing," he said, sounding older than his years "Trust in mom It means trust that she doesn't ," he paused "That nothing happens to her just say it that way"

Mark Brunswick • 651-222-1636

Article source: www.startribune.com/

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