Female Fliers Taking Fight to Enemy in Afghanistan

From a Special Forces soldier: "Ma'am that was an awesome landing!"

ByABC News
November 23, 2009, 5:06 PM

QALAT, Afghanistan Dec. 1, 2009— -- Skimming the surface of southern Afghanistan's red desert in a small helicopter, Natalie Mallicoat quickly pauses, angles the nose downwards, blasts a missile, then banks hard right as a cloud of smoke erupts over the mountainside target.

It's become a familiar procedure for the U.S. Army captain who was so excited the first time she shot from her Kiowa that she forgot to aim.

"It was just really, really cool," she said, blue eyes sparkling and mouth breaking into a smile as she recounts the experience. "After I got over the fact that I shot rockets, it was, 'Okay I totally missed the target, now I've got to concentrate on making sure the rockets hit the target.'"

Mallicoat, 26, is one of only seven females in Afghanistan piloting the small OH 58 – or Kiowa – helicopter, a one-engine craft which darts just feet above the earth to support ground troops, often on reconnaissance missions and searching for roadside bombs. She served in Iraq before arriving in Afghanistan last spring with the 82nd Airborne.

Women in the military have been allowed to fly attack helicopters for little more than a decade and since then a small but growing number of female soldiers have chosen this path – one of the few that allows them to engage in direct combat.

For Mallicoat, who is based out of Ft. Bragg in North Carolina, the decision to join the military was made at a young age. Her father, a school teacher, encouraged both her and her brother, who is also in the military, to serve their country.

The desire to fly came from her fascination with seeing the world from a different perspective – and knowing the impact World War II pilots had from above.

As she progressed through flight school, instructors told her to choose the aircraft which best suited her temperament. (Plus her father hoped she'd choose an airframe one with guns.) The Kiowa was a perfect fit.