Former Niles graduate piloting Apache helicopter in AfghanistanPublished 11:03am Monday, February 15, 2010
By ERIKA PICKLES
Niles Daily Star
Part 1 of 2
When it comes to helicopters, there’s one that stands above the rest – the Apache.
This sophisticated machine is the U.S. Army’s primary attack helicopter. It is a quick-reacting, airborne weapon system that can fight near or far and disrupt or delay enemy forces. The Apache is designed to fight and survive during the day, night and in adverse weather throughout the world. Not to mention, it’s equipped with some pretty hefty machinery. In other words, you can run from it, but you can’t hide.
Since these Army pilots fly the most demanding helicopters in the world, only a select few actually get the privilege to do so. In fact, only 3 percent of army pilots qualify to fly them.
Of that small percentage, Niles has one pilot to call its own.
Michelle Malinowski is a first lieutenant for the AH-64D Apache Longbow Helicopter. She is currently stationed at Camp Salerno Fort Operating Base in Afghanistan, serving her first 12-month tour overseas. Malinowski deployed in November 2009.
“I was excited when I learned I was going to be deploying. I felt like I owed it to my country and I felt like I was ready to employ what I had learned,” Malinowski said.
A 2003 Niles High School graduate, Malinowski attended Michigan State University on a four-year scholarship, and she was a cadet in the Reserve Officers Training Core (ROTC).
She graduated from MSU in 2007 as a member of the Honors College with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. After graduation, she was commissioned as an officer of the United States Army, and then branched Army Aviation.
Malinowski said her original goal was to be accepted into a federal government agency, such as the CIA, FBI or DEA. She said she wanted learn everything she could about being a leader and managing people in the Army so she could use her experiences in a federal agency.
“A few months after I graduated and commissioned, I started active duty and went to Fort Lewis, Wash. to be a Platoon Training Advising and Counselor (TAC),” she said. “I was there for a few months assessing ROTC cadets on their leadership skills, then I left for a Basic Officers Leadership Course at Fort Sill, Okla. for seven weeks.”
After completing that course, Malinowski went to Fort Rucker, Ala. for flight school. While there, she went through several courses to train and learn how to operate the Apache. Some of her training included attending Dunker School, where she learned to egress a helicopter underwater. She also completed basic courses, such as survival, evasion, resistance and escape and a basic combat skills course.
“After completing those, I went on to my advanced airframe course (AH-64D or Apache Longbow Attack Helicopter) and the Basic Officers Leadership Course,” Malinowski said. “Altogether, I was in flight school from September 2007 to July 2009.”
Almost immediately after her training was complete, Malinowski received orders for the 1st Battalion 3rd Aviation Regiment at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Ga. Three months after her arrival, she was informed she would be deploying to Afghanistan, where her current position is to perform the duties of a flight company platoon leader in a company of 115 personnel.
With all the training, it’s easy to see why very few soldiers actually advance to such a precise assignment. For Malinowski, the training was well worth it. Her father, Joseph, however, had different feelings when it came to his daughter’s career path.
“I was extremely concerned about Michelle choosing a career path that would lace her in harm’s way,” he said. “I thought it was a great career choice for other individuals, but not my daughter.”
Her mother, Cheryl, on the other hand, was excited at first, saying she thought it would be an awesome career opportunity. But as time has gone on, her concerns have grown.
Cheryl explained that she had two nephews who played football for Navy at Naval Academy. But the difference for her nephews is that they never saw wartime and her daughter is now in the middle of it.
“Our involvement (in the war) at the time she joined was minimal and I thought that our problems would certainly be remedied by now – that was a huge oversight on my part,” she said. “I think it’s wonderful that we have individuals who are so self-sacrificing, but I rather it wasn’t my daughter.”
Needless to say, when the news came about that Michelle would be heading to Afghanistan, the concern grew even more intense.
Joseph explained that from the beginning, he knew there was a good chance that Michelle would be heading overseas, either to Iraq or Afghanistan.
“I felt more relieved to hear that she would be in Afghanistan because there was less activity in comparison to Iraq at the time,” he said. “But since she has been there, the activity has increased, just as my concern level has.”
Cheryl agreed, stating that as Michelle’s deployment grew nearer, her confidence in her daughter’s career choice slowly diminished.
“It was so easy to get caught up in all the glitz and glory that followed her through the entire MSU Army ROTC experience,” Cheryl said. “Then, before I knew it, November came around it was really was show time.”
Although both Joseph and Cheryl would prefer to see Michelle in a much safer environment, they both know how important it is to support her, no matter what she does and both admitted they are extremely proud.
“We learned back when Michelle was in sixth grade that it was better to support her than go against her,” Cheryl said. “Despite our concerns, we are very proud of her accomplishments. The Apache training is longer and more selective when compared to all other helicopters. In addition, she is a female, which makes her accomplishments even greater.”
Even better, this July, Michelle will be promoted to captain.
“I feel like this is my time to show what I’ve learned and it’s time for me to give back to our country,” Michelle said.
This is part 1 of a 2 part series. In the next article, Michelle explains her duties in Afghanistan, how she keeps in contact with everyone back home and what it’s like being a female Apache pilot.