KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M., Dec. 31, 2014 – Air Force Maj.
Mary Clark, a UH-1N Huey instructor pilot and the 58th Operations
Support Squadron's assistant director of operations here, knows what
it takes to make a good helicopter pilot.
pilots at Shindand Air Base, Afghanistan.
She prepared 20
student pilots, including three female members of the Afghan air
force and male rotary-wing pilots to fly the Russian-made Mi-17, and
contributed to nonflying aspects of all pilot training.
Air Force Maj. Mary Clark, right, instructs Air Force 1st Lt. David
Shadoin during preflight procedures Dec. 16, 2014, at Kirtland Air
Force Base, N.M. Clark is a UH-1N Huey instructor pilot and the 58th
Operations Support Squadron's assistant director of operations, and
Shadoin is a student pilot in the 512th Special Operations Squadron.
Clark trained pilots for Afghanistan's air force during a yearlong
deployment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jim Fisher)
Clark said she hopes the impact made by the mission she
made for a year went beyond producing capable pilots for the
Afghan air force.
"We exposed one culture to another
and did our best to create an avenue for advancement in
their society," she said. Students trained by the 58th
Special Operations Wing are turned into combat-ready special
operations and rescue crew members who can make an impact in
operations around the world.
Due to cultural restrictions on interaction between men
and women outside the family environment, it helped the
Afghan women to have a female instructor, Clark said. The
women were not invited to evening study sessions male
students would hold, she added, and were somewhat on their
own when coalition instructors were not holding a formal
Clark said she was
able to provide an avenue for them to get questions answered
and facilitate their self-study.
"If they had a
question, they would come to me," she said. "They felt more
comfortable having a woman present during training."
In addition to helping the women to adapt to the training
environment, Clark acted as a role model.
were all very motivated and competent. Despite facing
significant threats to their safety, they did well in their
training," she said. "These women were very brave to choose
this career path. I was happy to be able to be an example of
professionalism for them. I think it was important for them
to see that a woman could become a pilot."
A Different Aircraft
In addition to adjusting to the culture, Clark said, she
had to adjust to a different aircraft. To prepare for the
mission, she had to learn how to fly the Mi-17, which she
said is very different from the UH-1N. Because the Mi-17
rotor spins in the opposite direction, it has a different
flight control arrangement, and it is much larger than the
Huey she's used to flying.
"I got 35 hours in the Mi-17 before I deployed, and the
transition was smooth,” she said. “It was fun."
Clark had established herself as a well-trained and skilled
pilot, she gained credibility with male and female students
In addition to the typical dangers inherent to
the deployed environment, Clark also had to contend with a
heightened state of alert following a spate of Taliban
"It's terrorists targeting their own
people," she said. "You had to be on guard, but you can't be
paranoid. A year is just too long to be paranoid."
More traditional combat-related threats called Clark into
action. She took part in a rescue mission after a helicopter
was struck by an improvised explosive device during a
training mission, and some of her Afghan comrades were
killed in the line of duty. This included a safety officer
she had advised throughout her year there, who was killed in
a grenade attack a week before she left the country.
The female Afghan pilots Clark worked with also had to deal
with constant dangers.
While on base, the women were
protected, but they could not wear their uniforms in public
without making themselves a target of the Taliban, Clark
A More Enlightened
A competent air force to defend gains
Afghanistan has made toward a free society will also
translate into a more enlightened society in the long term,
"You have to change an
entire generation," she added. "Our presence as advisers,
airmen, and, in my case, as a woman, served to enlighten the
younger generation of Afghan soldiers we interacted with.
This willingness to embrace a global perspective, coupled
with the establishment of national pride, is essential for
the country to defeat terrorist threats to their government
and way of life.
"I encountered many intelligent and
motivated Afghans,” she continued. “With coalition support
we saw many successes, such as Afghan officers becoming
instructor pilots and leading real-world missions as well as
taking command and leading their own people. ... It will be
incumbent on these leaders to continue these practices as
they assume primary responsibility for defending their
country and their freedom."
By Jim Fisher, U.S. Air Force
News / Defense Media Activity
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