Army astronaut phones ‘home’ to Fort Rucker from space

LEFT: Brian Jacobson, a Department of the Army civilian with the Combined Arms Division, briefs a group of nearly 50 personnel at Fort Rucker prior to a videoconference with Lt. Col. Anne C. McClain, a former OH-58D Kiowa Warrior aviator who is currently serving as a NASA flight engineer onboard the International Space Station May 1. (Photo by Kelly Morris) RIGHT: Lt. Col. Anne C. McClain. (Courtesy of NASA)
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FORT RUCKER, Ala. (Ft. Rucker) -- The ‘Home of Army Aviation’ had the rare opportunity to link up directly via live videoconference with a senior Army aviator currently serving as a National Aeronautics and Space Administration astronaut onboard the International Space Station May 1.

Lt. Col. Anne C. McClain, a former OH-58D Kiowa Warrior aviator who is currently serving as a NASA flight engineer at the ISS, was selected in 2013 as one of eight members of the 21st NASA astronaut class. She is currently part of the Expedition 58/59 crew, and along with Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and Canadian astronaut Dr. David Saint-Jacques, she is scheduled to return to Earth in July.

McClain spoke directly with approximately 50 Army Aviation professionals gathered at the Seneff Building here about her current job, and her roots in Army Aviation.
“The best people I’ve worked with in the Army are sitting in that room right now, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciated serving with them and the lessons I learned from them, and if I make you guys proud I’ve accomplished something,” McClain said.

McClain explained that growing up in Army Aviation gave her a backbone. It taught her what true camaraderie is, and what it means to be a leader, all of which have served her well in her current endeavor.

“From day one I’ve always been judged on my merits and what I brought to the team. And there’s a high bar. We joke with each other a lot, but at the end of the day, we are a tight group, and we rely on each other with our lives every day,” she said.

The live videoconference with McClain also provided an opportunity for permanent party captains who are considering the experimental test pilot course, as well as Fort Rucker medical professionals, and people who previously served under her leadership, to participate in a question-and-answer session with her.

Topics included the similarities between the decision making required on missions as an astronaut and previous missions as an Army aviator, what life is like on the ISS including preparation for space walks, gravity, how she stays connected to family, and about monitoring and care of astronauts from a medical and psychological perspective.

According to Brian Jacobson, a Department of the Army civilian with the Combined Arms Division here who coordinated the videoconference, one of the goals for the event was to show support for McClain from the Army Aviation community.

“We thought it would be nice if she got a chance to talk to the people that flew with her when she was in command (at Fort Rucker) and express to her how much we care about her, and how excited we are that she made it and is doing what she’s doing,” Jacobson said.

McClain was commissioned as an Army officer in 2002 and immediately attended graduate school. Her studies at the University of Bath focused on the unsteady aerodynamics and flow visualization of free-to-roll nonslender delta wings and her research was later published through the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. She also researched the security burden in developing countries at nearby University of Bristol.

Following graduate school, McClain earned her wings as an OH-58D Kiowa Warrior scout/attack helicopter pilot.

She began her operational flying career with 2nd Battalion, 6th Cavalry Regiment at Wheeler Army Airfield, Hawaii, as an Air Traffic Control platoon leader, Aviation Intermediate Maintenance platoon leader, and detachment commander.

She served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, flying more than 800 combat hours on 216 combat missions as pilot-in-command and air mission commander.

McClain was assigned to 1st Battalion, 14th Aviation Regiment at Fort Rucker as the battalion operations officer and OH-58D instructor pilot. She was appointed commander of C Troop, 1st Battalion, 14th Aviation Regiment, responsible for the Army’s initial entry training, instructor pilot training, and maintenance test pilot training in the OH-58D.

She completed Command and General Staff College and the C-12 fixed wing multiengine qualification courses in 2011 and 2012. She then attended the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School, graduating in June 2013.

McClain has logged more than 2,000 flight hours in 20 different rotary and fixed-wing aircraft. She is a rated pilot and instructor pilot in the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior, and a rated pilot in the UH-60 Black Hawk, UH-72 Lakota and C-12 Huron (King Air). Her awards include the Bronze Star Medal, Air Medal with Valor, two Air Medals, two Army Commendation Medals, and numerous other awards and decorations.

Participants said they continue to follow McClain’s journey into space in the news and via the Internet and NASA television programming.

“I watch her spacewalks. They are busy, and there’s so much going on, with experiments they’re doing, and it’s just incredible from all aspects, from science to technology,” Jacobson said.

The opportunity to communicate from Fort Rucker with McClain in orbit aboard the ISS was “a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Jacobson added.

Retiree Jim Kalahan, who formerly served with McClain at Fort Rucker and participated in the videoconference, said he was proud of her and her accomplishments.
He described McClain’s leadership style as one in which everyone started out on a level playing field.

“Being active duty for 32 years… I can tell you, hands down, bar none, (she’s) the best commander I ever had in my military career,” Kalahan said.

Russell W. Kruse, deputy chief for standardization for 110th Aviation Brigade, said he will continue to expect great things from her in the future.

“If there’s a NASA Next, she’ll be part of it, whether it’s the south part of the moon or to Mars,” Kruse said.

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