Twin sisters fly flag for women warriors
IDENTICAL twin sisters piloting Black Hawk helicopters in the danger zones of northern Iraq are on the front line of a revolution. Lieutenant Jennifer Robinson and Lieutenant Amanda Matthews, both 24 and both standing just 5ft 1in tall, are a startling example of how far women have come in the armed forces.

Last week Robinson, her ponytail tucked under her flying helmet, piloted helicopter missions out of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s birthplace, as she has done for seven months. Matthews flew her final Black Hawk mission from the army base at Taji two months ago before returning home with her husband, an Army Ranger, to Hunter Air Base in Georgia. “I never got to see her over here,” Robinson said. “We did manage to talk when we both called home and my mom and dad put the phones together. Now I’m just happy I got her beat on flight hours.”

The pilot twins were black belt karate champions in Florida, where they grew up before going to different universities and joining the army. For their 16th birthday they jumped out of an aeroplane. Their father Dick Fortenberry, 67, who flew a helicopter gunship in Vietnam, said from his home in Tennessee that both girls had a fierce sense that they were “doing a good job over there”.

Robinson — call sign Eagle Assault — starts her day at about 3am when she has an intelligence briefing on her area, a hardline Sunni region where roadside bombs have killed scores of American soldiers. She has been trained to attack but insisted: “I personally don’t shoot people — my gunners do.”

Her love for her aircraft is clear. “You can manoeuvre that thing anywhere,” she said. “You can hover on a pinpoint, which is amazing in itself. It becomes like a part of you.”

She takes a lot of flak — from Iraqi insurgents, whom she labels “the bad guys”, and from colleagues who tease her about her lack of height. “They’re always joking with me about how they have to adjust the seat,” she said. However, she is respected for her skills. “Flying is not the hard part,” she said. “You have four or five radios going, different areas of navigation, and at night you are flying under goggles and that is like flying with two toilet rolls on your eyes.”

The life suits her: “I always wanted to be part of something bigger than me. It didn’t matter if it was a brotherhood or a sisterhood.”
HOOAH, ladies.

Posted by: Steve White 2006-03-12