What generally comes to mind when you think about Navy pilots or military aviators? A swaggering character like Maverick in Top Gun? Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier in The Right Stuff? How about Lt. Nadia Brouillette, a young Navy helicopter pilot who is currently helping with the relief effort in Northern Japan?
Over the past two weeks, we have been inundated by apocalyptic images resulting from the recent disaster in Japan. While most of us can only watch the video clips helplessly, Navy pilot Lt. Nadia Brouillette is actively providing relief as part of Operation Tomodachi. Lt. Brouillette pilots an HH-60H Sea Hawk helicopter as part of the HS-4 Helicopter Squadron on board the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier. Her squadron is delivering humanitarian supplies to the areas destroyed by the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami.
On February 22, 1974, Lt. Cmdr. Barbara Allen Rainey became the first female naval aviator in U.S. history. Today, there are approximately 800 female aviators in the Navy and they make up 16% of the total Naval officer population. Women pilots have reached great heights in more ways than one, and they serve in every capacity including flying combat missions, commanding squadrons and as astronauts in NASA’s space shuttle program. They also fly helicopters into danger zones to help people in need around the globe.
Originally from Denver CO, Lt. Brouillette is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, where she studied Mechanical Engineering and minored in Arabic. I thought she would make a great focus for the BlogHer Awesome Woman of the Month series, so I tracked her down through the Naval Public Relations/Communications office and they allowed me to interview her.
*What was your motivation/inspiration for joining the Navy?
An old saying goes: Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get. I wanted both. Specifically, I wanted both a physical challenge and a mental challenge. The military seemed to offer the best of both worlds. So far so good.
*Have you always wanted to be a pilot? Was the HH-60H Sea Hawk helicopter what you wanted to fly, or did you have interest in other aircraft?
I didn’t always want to be a pilot. During one of my summer trainings, I visited the airfield at North Island and got a ride in a helicopter for about 10 minutes. After those 10 minutes were over, I knew what I wanted to do in the Navy.
*What would you recommend other young women do if they want to have a similar career? What steps should they take?
I don’t think that, prior to joining the Navy, a man or woman should make such a specific career decision. They don’t know their options yet and most of them don’t know themselves that well either. Having said that, if they do have a strong desire to fly helicopters, then learning about all the different missions that helicopters are used for would be my advice.
*What was it like providing relief for the people of Japan? Do you speak Japanese or did you have an interpreter?
I do not speak Japanese, nor did my flight have an interpreter, however we did have patches with some Japanese phrases on it. Seeing the faces of the children and parents in the different Japanese areas I landed at might turn out to be the highlight of my career. In my two plus years in the Navy, this was the first time I’ve felt useful in such a big way. I am the newest pilot in the squadron, and to be able to watch the impact that my team has made gives me so much confidence that my career won’t be just training and ‘being ready in case we’re needed’. I’m so proud of HS-4 and “Operation Tomodachi.” Tomodachi means friend, and I think that is the most important word I’ve learned and have used extensively in my flights over Japan.
Lt. Brouillette, we salute you for providing service to your country and relief to the people of Japan. The next time I hear the phrase “the right stuff”, I’ll think of you!
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