As a child looking into the sky above her hometown of Goldsboro,
N.C., U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 5 Cathy Jarrell recalls the
B-52 airplanes from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base soaring overhead.
It was then that she realized she wanted to be an aviator. It was
around this time that the Army was beginning to open opportunities
for women to become pilots.
Jarrell, currently a C-12 pilot
with Task Force Condor, Task Force Observe, Detect, Identify, and
Neutralize, attached to 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain
Division, Task Force Falcon, seized the opportunity in 1990 when she
enrolled in Warrant Officer Candidate School where she was one of
three females in her class of 80 candidates.
March 27, 2017 - U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 5 Cathy Jarrell, a fixed-wing
pilot with Task Force Condor, an aviation unit attached to 10th
Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, Task Force Falcon,
stands next to a C-12 aircraft. Soon after the restriction on females
flying combat helicopters was lifted, Jarrell, a native of
Goldsboro, N.C., became one of the first female AH-64 Apache
helicopter pilots in 1993. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Morgan McAfee,
Task Force Falcon)
At first, the three females had the entire first floor of
the wooden World War II-era two-story barracks. But she
recalled that halfway through training, they were split up
so each of them would share a floor with the male
“I didn’t understand what their intent
was at the time, but I think now it was to prepare us for
challenges down the road,” said Jarrell.
August of the same year as Jarrell was beginning flight
school Iraq was invading Kuwait, the precursor to the 1991
Gulf War. By the time she graduated in May 1991, combat
operations in the Gulf had ended.
“Flight school was
the hardest school I’ve attended, it was such a long period
of time and they were constantly watching you,” Jarrell
said. “Flight school could last anywhere between nine months
and one year depending on the aircraft you are assigned to
Upon graduation, Jarrell was assigned to pilot
the UH-1H Huey helicopter.
“The Huey is a great
aircraft, very forgiving and basic, but a great workhorse in
Vietnam,” she said.
Although women had been flying
Army helicopters since the early ‘70s, it was not until 1993
when then-Secretary of the Army Les Aspin lifted
restrictions and allowed females to fly combat missions.
It was during her assignment in Korea that she
volunteered for AH-64 Apache helicopter training and was
selected. After she completed the Apache course in 1993,
Jarrell became one of the first female Attack Helicopter
Pilots. Her first assignment was with the 101st Airborne
Division in 1995.
“The guys in the unit were like
big brothers who will pick on you, but wouldn’t let anyone
else [do the same],” Jarrell said of her male counterparts.
She is currently stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany,
with 15th Military Intelligence Company.
years of military service, Jarrell has been on three
rotations to Afghanistan and one to Iraq. During her tour to
Korea she participated in Operation Enduring Freedom –
Philippines where she flew a C-12 Huron cargo plane.
While deployed to Iraq in 2003 she was awarded the
Combat Action Badge when she came under anti-aircraft and
surface-to-air-missile attacks while flying the Longbow
Apache in one of the first direct-fire engagements of the
Iraq war on March 20, 2003.
“All of my tour to Iraq
was exciting, mysterious. The ‘Mad Max’ drive to Baghdad,
all the unknowns,” Jarrell said. “Even here you never know
what will happen.”
Jarrell’s last apache flight was
“My first year after I stopped flying
Apaches I really missed the high action adventure, flying
over terrain in an apache; the sensation is totally
different,” she said.
Jarrell has since become a
fixed-wing pilot of several aircraft. Her favorite
fixed-wing aircraft to fly is the Northrop Grumman RC-12X
Guardrail because of its cutting-edge cockpit technology.
She also likes flying the Beechcraft RC-12K Huron, even
though it is reminiscent of older avionics.
she is now a fixed-wing pilot, her heart is still with the
Apache. “If I had millions and millions of dollars, I would
have an Apache in my driveway if I had a choice to buy one,”
Jarrell said she has been afforded fair
“As an aviator, I have been
given a lot of opportunities, which I am happy with,” she
Jarrell is qualified as an instructor pilot and
an instrument examiner. But the opportunities did not come
without overcoming obstacles. The most challenging obstacle
she says is balancing family and her career.
is married and a mother of a teenager.
being a ‘military brat’. She loves to travel and loves the
lifestyle so far. First Korea and now Germany; she loves
She credits her success in the military to her
“He has always been there, been supportive
of me and a great person to talk to, he gives me guidance,”
she said. “He had to give a lot to allow me to stay in.”
She offered the following advice to women in the
military, “Keep a positive attitude and strive to do your
best and study hard. Know all you can and find the good
leaders in your unit, whether it be officers or NCOs, and
gravitate toward them.”
Her plans include to stay in
the military in an operational flying position and to have
her family near.
“To be my age and still go out and
fly, it’s every aviator’s dream.”
By U.S. Army Spc. Morgan McAfee
Comment on this article