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Stephanie Blakley ready to fly in Iraq

Stephanie Blakley ready to fly in Iraq
Stephanie Blakley ready to fly in Iraq
CW3 Stephanie Blakley joined the National Guard when she was 17 and has been flying Blackhawk helicopters for 10 years. Now she's heading to Balad, northeast of Baghdad.

Since girlhood, Stephanie’s wish has been to fly, to soar like the eagles and glide with the hawks.
Today, she’s doing just that. CW3 Stephanie Motley Blakley, 32, pilots a UH60 Blackhawk utility helicopter, carrying up to 8,000 pounds of cargo, including sling loads ‘ cargo hanging via pulley beneath the helicopter ‘ for the National Guard.
And soon, after a quick trip home for Christmas, she’ll be off to Iraq.
Stephanie joined the National Guard when she was 17, and in those days she didn’t ever expect to be deployed. But after 9/11, she knew that day would come.
‘That’s what I signed up for; that’s why they spent all that money training me,’ she said during a recent trip to Corydon to visit her mother, Donna Gribble.
‘Don’t hate me, Mom,’ she pleaded, as mother’s tears overflowed at the thought of her daughter flying off to war.
The tears aren’t a bit unusual these days. ‘I’m going to have to quit watching the news while she’s over there,’ said Donna, a former corrections officer at the Harrison County Justice Center.
Stephanie is being deployed to Camp Anaconda near Balad, Iraq, northeast of Baghdad, the capital.
‘It’s a pretty hot place,’ Stephanie said.
She’s used to being out of the country, having made trips to Ecuador, South Korea, El Salvador, St. Croix, and flying extensively within the United States. ‘This is my first time to be deployed,’ she said.
This assignment includes more than 300 soldiers from four states: ‘We’re in training together, living together, and working together,’ Stephanie said. ‘It takes a little time to mesh a 300-group unit together.’
During the ocean crossing, Stephanie said the $4 million to $6 million Blackhawks will be carefully protected. ‘On the way, they will be shrink-wrapped so they don’t get sea water on them,’ she said, adding that the rotors will be removed and protected as well.
About 17,000 troops will be stationed at Camp Anaconda, Iraq’s largest airbase.
Stephanie is used to making troop lifts and flying dignitaries in and out of various places at home and abroad. She spends the same amount of time in the air and performs as many tasks a year as an active duty pilot. She will spend 30 days in Kuwait before taking off to Balad, where she and her comrades will serve a year.
When she joined the National Guard, Stephanie was a mechanic, a federal technician for four years, getting to know how the complicated aircraft works. ‘I wanted to know something about it before I learned to fly,’ she said.
She’s been flying now for more than 10 years. ‘It’s better than a roller coaster,’ she said. ‘King’s Island just isn’t it anymore.’
Usually, Stephanie works as a federal pilot for the National Guard in Kentucky, but while gearing up for Iraq, she has been in Oklahoma for three months. At the same time, her husband, Trever, is in training for the Louisville Metro Police Dept. He expects to graduate from the police academy in February. Is it OK for Stephanie to be deployed?
‘He knew what I was doing when we got married,’ she said. ‘It’s just not OK with Mom.’
Quickly, Donna said, ‘I’m proud of what she does. But anybody in their right mind would be scared.’
‘I’ve never been scared at what I’ve done, but I’m scared at what I’m going to do now,’ Stephanie said. ‘Yeah, it’s set in in the last couple of weeks. It’s part of the deal, to get to do what I do. It’s not just a job.
‘It’s scary, but, again, that’s part of the deal I made with Uncle Sam.’
And, apparently, it’s been worth it, she said. ‘It’s the only way I would ever have learned to fly.’
She added: ‘It’s the closest thing to being a bird as you can get.’

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