Female Army aviator bringing vet voice to media

To say that Amber Smith comes from a military family is an understatement. Her great-grandfather was in World War I, her grandfather was in World War II, and her father was a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne. Both of her parents were pilots. Both of her sisters are military pilots.

465539_10151577565617454_1680271841_o

Her parents’ love of flying sparked her interest, and she started flying private planes at a young age. As she got older she started considering a career in aviation, specifically military aviation. Then in 2003, she was introduced to a future she didn’t know was possible.

“I talked to the Marines, I talked to the Air Force, and I talked to the Navy because I didn’t even know the Army had aviation,” Smith says. “I grew up in fixed wings. Never once did the thought of helicopters cross my mind.”

The other three branches told her the same thing: get a college degree and then come talk. But Smith just wanted to join the military as an aviator. When she spoke to the Army they told her could still be a pilot, just flying helicopters instead of planes. Smith’s experience as a civilian pilot allowed her to join before finishing her degree through the Warrant Officer Flight Training Program.

Amber in the cockpit-3

While still in college and before joining the Army, Smith met her parents at an air show where helicopter rides were offered. She hopped in to see if a helicopter was really something she wanted.

“I went on this helicopter flight and I was immediately hooked,” she remembers. “I was like, ‘this is for me. I love it!’ I didn’t even want planes anymore, give me a helicopter.”

After basic training and Warrant Officer Candidate School, she went to flight school where she met her bird: the OH58 Kiowa Warrior Helicopter. The Kiowa Warrior is a light attack reconnaissance helicopter; a two-seater carrying a fifty cal machine gun and 7-shot 2.75 in (70 mm) Hydra-70 rocket pods, configurable for Hellfire missiles.

An OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopter from the 1st Infantry Division takes off on a mission from Forward Operation Base MacKenzie, Iraq. It is armed with an AGM-114 Hellfire and 7 Hydra 70 rockets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shane Cuomo)

An OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopter from the 1st Infantry Division takes off on a mission from Forward Operation Base MacKenzie, Iraq. It is armed with an AGM-114 Hellfire and 7 Hydra 70 rockets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shane Cuomo)

“I loved my time flying the Kiowa,” Smith recalls. “I knew that was the best and most bad ass flying I would ever do in my life.”

Her mission was direct support for ground forces, looking for IEDs, providing aerial security for convoys, and responding to troops in combat (TICs). Smith deployed with her unit, the 101st Airborne Division, to Iraq from 2005, where she made Pilot in Command. She went to Afghanistan in 2008, where she made Air Mission Commander, seeing combat in a combat arms role years before the ban on women in combat ended.

Amber Smith Kiowa Warrior OH-58 Attack helicopter

“Before they lifted the restriction, aviation was the only branch within what was called Combat Arms – now it’s maneuvers, fire, and effects – but it was the only Combat Arms branch that allowed women,” Smith says.

Her views on women in combat is simple: there needs to be a mission standard, not a gender standard.

“As long as the standards remain the exact same as today, I think women should be given the opportunity to try it,” Smith says. “I don’t believe in quotas or lowering standards but I don’t think it should matter if you’re a man or a woman. If you can do the job and contribute to the mission that’s what matters.”

The Army’s proposed integration plan includes first adding female officers to leadership roles within combat units. Amber Smith think it’s a smart move but the plan for and acceptance of women in combat jobs will take time.

“Reducing the standards creates resentment,” she says. “When I got to my unit in 2004, women were very rare in the Kiowa Warrior community. I worked very hard to do my job and contribute to the mission. As soon as they realized that, I was a part of the team.”

IMG_8346

Smith left the military in 2010, but while she was in, she completed a Bachelor’s in Professional Aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. After transitioning, she earned her Master of Science in Safety, Security, and Emergency Management with a specialization in Homeland Security from Eastern Kentucky University.

While in graduate school, she noticed that too often the media lacked a credible veteran’s point of view.

“It’s important the American people need to hear the perspective of people who have been on the operational side of national security,” she says. “People who have been to war and have seen the enemy everyone talks about on TV every day.”

Smith started a blog and got published wherever she could. Within three months, the calls for television appearances started. Her career just took off from there. She just completed her first book, Danger Close: One’s Woman’s Epic Journey as a Combat Helicopter Pilot in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

“2015 was the year of my book,” Smith says. “I wrote it myself, I didn’t have a ghostwriter or anything. I wanted to preserve my voice. The Kiowa Warrior is an incredibly effective tool on the battlefield, essential in the two theaters of war. Nobody knows about it, all anybody knows about is the Apache. So I want people to know who we are and what we did.”

Smith is now a Senior Fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and Senior Military Advisor for Concerned Veterans for America. She is also a writer and television commentator on national security issues, foreign policy, and military operations. She regularly appears on Fox News, Fox Business, CNN, and MSNBC.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYqoiaDUHlA

Her book is due out in September and is available for preorder on Amazon.

Follow Amber Smith on Twitter

TOP ARTICLES
That time when the USS Missouri gave full honors to a kamikaze pilot

Kamikaze pilots commonly struck fear in the hearts of allied troops with their choreographed nose-dives right into U.S. ships during World War II.

This is how the Israelis planned to kill Saddam Hussein

Saddam wasn't crazy for using all those body doubles. People were really trying to kill him. Israel never forgot his Gulf War Scud missile attacks.

The 13 funniest memes for the week of Nov. 17

Justice League comes out this weekend but you don't care. You've been waiting for your Justice League enlistment to end for years. These memes are for you.

This is what you need to know about Mark Esper, the new Army Secretary

The new Army Secretary is a retired officer whose service includes active duty in the Gulf War, as well as time in the reserves and the National Guard.

The Army tested its first damage sensors on these helicopters

For the first time ever, a team of researchers successfully developed and tested networked acoustic emission sensors that can detect airframe damage.

The American caught crossing the DMZ wanted to be a negotiator

The 58 year-old US citizen who attempted to cross the border between North and South Korea wanted to help Pyongyang and Washington negotiate.

This is how the 'largest defense bill in history' pushes troops to stay in uniform

The House passed a nearly $700 billion bipartisan defense bill on Nov. 14, boosting what some politicians have called a depleted US military.

6 reasons why Marines hate on the Air Force

The military community houses a massive rivalry, and we hate on each other for various reasons, but at the end of the day — we're still on the same side.

Navy recruits now test their fitness before shipping out

On Nov. 15, the service announced it is creating an initial fitness test for prospective sailors on their first day of boot camp at Great Lakes, Ill.

Now US-backed forces in Syria are on the hunt for ISIS fighters

The U.S.-led coalition to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria supports Syrian Democratic Forces as they pressure ISIS out of former strongholds.