History paved the way for aviatorPublished 11:08am Friday, February 26, 2010
By ERIKA PICKLES
Niles Daily Star
Part 2 of 2
Since the American Revolution, women have played a vital role in the United States military. For centuries, they were behind the scenes, taking on the roles of nursing assistants, water bearers, cooks and laundresses, to name a few. Despite their involvement, women were not able to enter into combat, dress in uniform or carry weapons. But in 1948, things took a dramatic turn.
Separate military services for women were established when President Harry S. Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, which granted women permanent status in the regular and reserve forces of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps, as well as in the newly created Air Force.
Since then, women’s ranks have grown, just as the number of women enlisting in military branches has. Now, they don’t stand behind the scenes, they stand in front. And although they still are not physically allowed to enter into combat on the ground, they can engage in combat in the air.
Because of history paving the way, pilots like Michelle Malinowksi are now able to do more than ever before.
Malinowski, who has been stationed in Afghanistan since November 2009, is one of the growing number of women aviators. She pilots the AH-64D Apache helicopter, where her current missions include, but are not limited to, aerial reconnaissance, aerial escort, convoy escort and troops in contact missions.
“In Afghanistan, we operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Malinowski explained. “We’re ready to respond to any type of mission. When soldiers get engaged from the enemy they call us for air support. Our job is to get there as fast as we can, protect the friendly ground forces, find to enemy and destroy them.”
But that too, is something that changed only 17 years ago. In 1993, the U.S. Department of Defense opened combat aviation to women, allowing them to engage in direct combat – one of the few areas of the military to allow this. The current generation of female aviators who join during wartime can expect to engage with the enemy. They are at risk of being hit by enemy fire and are expected to fire on command.
“The friendly ground forces’ lives are depending on us to protect them,” Malinowski said. “All of these missions require tactical patience, situation awareness and a thorough knowledge of the capabilities of the AH-64D’s weapon systems.”
Although women’s rights are still an ongoing issue in the military, over the years, the speculations of women’s capabilities to fight have diminished. And thanks to laws and regulations passed throughout the years, women now have more capabilities to not only enter into combat, but also hold ranks within their branches.
This July, Malinowski, a 2003 Niles High School graduate, will be promoted to captain. Currently, she holds the rank of first lieutenant.
“Being an officer in the Army has been a truly rewarding experience,” she said. “I’ve had the opportunity to go to many interesting places and the most rewarding is meeting so many interesting, dedicated, professional and wonderful people. I think being a soldier in the military is one of the most rewarding professions I have the privilege to wake up every day and make a difference in someone’s country or someone’s life It’s a great feeling of purpose and accomplishment.”
Although she has accomplished so much already and enjoys her current duties, Malinowski admitted that at this point, she is unsure if she will make the Army her career.
“Completing flight school opened multiple opportunities to fly for other agencies and organizations, so as of now, I am unsure what the future holds,” she said.
Until then, she will continue to serve her country with the constant support of family by her side.
Malinowski is currently serving her first 12-month deployment in Afghanistan, something that has been a challenge for her family thus far. Although she is thousands of miles away from home, her parents, Joseph and Cheryl Malinowski, and sister, Nicole, do everything they can to support her.
Along with support, the family sends constant reminders of home to Malinowski, including a few Michigan State University banners and flags. The family also sends plenty of goodies her way, including her favorite snack foods, a coffee maker and an air mattress, to name a few.
When it comes to living conditions, Malinowski explained that she and fellow soldiers live in hardened buildings separated into hallways and 8×8 rooms by plywood.
“Everyone has the ability to have a TV, microwave and refrigerator in their own individual room. The trick is assorting all of it so it fits,” she said.
And keeping in contact with family and friends back home is not a hard task.
“There is a cell phone service that works well for calls back to the states and each soldier can purchase Internet access. I try to call or Skype my family and fiance as often as I can. Although, the time difference and day to day work schedule often makes it difficult. I think the toughest part of being deployed, so far, is not being close to family,” she said.
Something which is also hard for her parents.
“Since her graduation from MSU, Michelle has been stationed at Fort Rucker, Ala. then to Savannah, Ga. so we are used to her being away for a couple months at a time,” Cheryl explained. “The most difficult part since her deployment had to be the holidays. This was the first time ever that she has been away from us during Thanksgiving and Christmas. And as a family, we definitely watch and listen with more discerning eyes and ears anytime Afghanistan is in the news.”
Despite the distance, a little piece of home will not be too far away next month.
Malinowski’s fiance, who is also in the Army, will be deploying to Afghanistan next month.
“Even though we will be closer, we still will probably not be able to visit each other due to demanding schedules and geographic location,” she said. But she admitted that the thought of him being closer is comforting.
For the past three years, Malinowski’s life has changed drastically. And although she is unsure of what her future holds at this point, she admitted that the constant training, dedication and experiences are something she will carry with her for a lifetime and she would recommend it to others as well.
“Anyone with a sense of civic duty that has the desire to serve their country and that has the dedication and commitment to serve a cause that is bigger than them should consider joining,” she said. “The Army’s values include loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. Those values define an Army Soldier. If a person posses these qualities than the Army would love to accept them as part of their team.”
And though times may be tough for her family, they know she has made a positive impact not only on her life, but for those who surround her as well. And they both admitted that being proud “is a definite affirmative.”