Deployed: Couple to Fly Helicopters in Iraq
A Robbins woman will soon become the first female pilot-in-command in combat in Iraq.
In April, once she passes her final check ride, Bethany Barden will be promoted to captain and on her way to her first deployment. She's taking her husband along with her. They are both in the National Guard.
Chief Warrant Officer Chance Barden is already a pilot-in-command with the 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 130th Aviation Regiment, based in Morrisville. As a lieutenant, soon to be captain, his wife outranks her 13-year veteran husband. He doesn't mind a bit.
They were high school sweethearts at North Moore, the way he tells it. They were best friends, according to her story.
Both spoke about their military life together in telephone interviews as they prepared for a farewell ceremony this afternoon (Sunday) at Broughton High School in Raleigh and an early Monday morning liftoff.
"At North Moore we were kind of best friends but didn't date," Bethany said. "We went to the prom together. When you aren't dating somebody, you go with your best friend. I went off to UNC. He went in the Army."
Her husband started Army life as an MP, then changed branches to the Marines. He came back to the Army and joined the National Guard so he could fly.
"My wife and I met when I was a senior and she was a freshman," Chance said. "I'd just moved back from Michigan and was required to take a freshman class they didn't have in Michigan. Bethany was in that class."
He took notice right away, but her parents didn't want their younger daughter to date.
"I got a crush on her in that class," he said. "I was actually in the same class as her older sister. I started talking to her about her sister. She wasn't really allowed to date, but we hung out and became friends. We did go to my senior prom together. When I got out of high school, we were separated when I went in the Army and the Marine Corps."
He did not forget the girl he left behind. She was busy finishing second in her class at North Moore. She headed to college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She thought she wanted to be an attorney.
"My parents sacrificed so much to pay for my college," she said. "I was determined to do well, because I saw how they sacrificed. I majored in English and military history. I have always been fascinated with military history, took classes on the Holocaust and Vietnam. One class on the Vietnam war kind of sold me. My grandfather was in the Army in Korea."
Chance was overseas, a Marine serving in special operations. Bethany was studying, heading for law school but having second thoughts.
"I prepared, took my LSATs and everything, but I wasn't sold on it," she said. "A little part of me was burned out with going to class and writing papers."
She had been going home to Robbins to work on weekends, hadn't spoken to Chance for three years but thought about him from time to time.
"Early one Sunday morning, I remember thinking, 'I wonder what Chance is doing right now,' and what is really weird is, I had an e-mail from him," she said. "He was coming home from Okinawa and would like to get together for old times."
He was different. He was a Marine. They had a great time.
"Six months later, he asked me to marry him," she said. "He is still my best friend. It is awesome. We are a good couple, a good match. Everybody in our unit is real supportive. Plus, I think mom and dad like him, too."
As a lieutenant, she outranks her chief warrant officer husband, though he is already a pilot-in-command.
The Bardens will fly separate aircraft, each commanding a different Longbow. They will train together at Fort Hood.
"Chance is an awesome guy," she said. "It is good we are deploying together. We are in different companies, but we are going to be in the same area of operation.
"We will probably have shared quarters, I think that is the way they are going to do it, but I am not sure, though. We will do what we need to do."
When she enlisted, it was with an aviation option to get out if for some reason she didn't make it as a pilot. She did make it, and fell in love with flight.
"I am excited, very excited," she said. "I love to fly. I pursued it. One day the stars aligned and I loved it. I wouldn't take anything for it. I don't regret it, not once. I didn't know myself until I joined the military. There is a huge world out there. I will never regret any decision.
"Both of us are pilots. Aviation is different, too. Helicopters are slow-moving aircraft by nature, slow but more methodical and tactical in our fighting. The ability to hover is a huge ability that other aircraft don't have. We are birds'-eye view for the ground troops. It is air to ground, not air to air."
'Protect Those Guys'
Army regulations will keep the Bardens flying separate helicopters, but they will be the latest ones in the line.
"Apache Longbow is the most advanced helicopter there is," Chance said. "There's a lot going on in it, safety within the performance limitations. It can deploy weapons safely within a combat environment when you've got friendly troops on the ground."
The Apache Longbows the Bardens will pilot are so-called for their fire-control radar that enables longer-range weapons accuracy, and all-weather and night fighting.
"We will do extensive training on our aircraft's capabilities, restrictions, the performance of the helicopter, what it actually can do," Chance said. "We are training to fly in the environment we are going to. It is a lot hotter in Iraq."
It isn't a question of comfort in desert climes for a soldier pilot, but being prepared for the way higher air temperatures affect his -- or her -- aircraft. That is why the unit is heading to Texas. They are going to Fort Hood for training.
"Going to Texas is a requirement mandated by the big Army any time you get a new platform," he said. "This isn't the old Alpha model Apache, but the newest, the Longbow."
The Bardens will be overhead, backing up ground troops in battle below.
"That is our primary mission," Chance said, "support the infantry guys, the guys that are on the ground in harm's way. We are there to protect those guys."
Contact John Chappell at 783-5841 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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