FORT RUCKER, Ala. (WDHN) — A senior Army aviator working as an astronaut under NASA spoke to other aviators at Fort Rucker all the way from outer space Wednesday.
Lt. Col. Anne McClain spoke before 50 people at a video conference, some of who served under her in the past. She explained about how decision-making as an astronaut and Army aviator are similar, what it’s like to live at the International Space Station, maintaining contact with her family, and what it takes to take care of astronauts from a psychological and medical standpoint.
She also spoke of her past missions as an Army aviator and said that her past as a former Army Aviator gave her the role models and values that allowed her to succeed in life.
“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 was chosen as one of eight people selected to be part of the 21st NASA astronaut class back in 2013. She now works with the Expedition 58/59 crew.
But before she walked among the stars, McClain began her career as a commissioned officer back in 2002 and attended the University of Bath for graduate school, focusing on “the unsteady aerodynamics and flow visualization of free-to-roll nonslender delta wings.” The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics would go on to publish her research on the topic.
After receiving further education on security burdens at the University of Bristol, McClain then earned her wings as an OH-58D Kiowa Warrior scout/attack helicopter pilot — flying with the 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.”
During Operation Iraqi Freedom, McClain flew in 216 combat missions.
After her assignment in Hawaii, she joined the 1st Battalion, 14th Aviation Regiment as the battalion operations officer and Kiowa instructor pilot. She was then made commander of C-Troop and was responsible for training pilots on the Kiowa.
“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,” said retiree Jim Kalahan, who previously served under McClain.
During her time as an Army Aviator, McClain has been awarded the Bronze Star Medal, Air Medal with Valor, two Air Medals, and two Army Commendation Medals.
McClain said it was her time as an Army Aviator that made her confident and taught her the true meaning of leadership.
“From day one, I’ve always been judged on my merits and what I brought to the team, and there’s a high bar,” she said. “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.”
But the video conference wasn’t just for educating Fort Rucker personnel. Brian Jacobson, a Department of the Army civilian with the Combined Arms Division, said the conference meant to show support for McClain’s endeavors from her fellow pilots.
“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.
“I watch her spacewalks,” he added. “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.”
According to Jacobson, being able to speak with an astronaut like McClain all the way up in the ISS is “a once in a lifetime opportunity.” Another attendee said McClain is likely to play a big part in future NASA missions.
“If there’s a NASA Next, she’ll be part of it, whether it’s the south part of the moon or to Mars,” said Russell W. Kruse, deputy chief for standardization for 110th Aviation Brigade.
And while she couldn’t make an in-person appearance this week, McClain won’t be orbiting around the Earth for much longer. If all goes as planned, she should come back to Earth in July.