Pilot becomes first female commander of aviation unit

By Sgt. David Cox, 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade Public Affairs

Capt. Jessica Tharp recently took charge of Kentucky's Medical Evacuation unit as the unit's first female commander. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. David Cox)

Capt. Jessica Tharp, flight operations officer for the Kentucky National Guard recently took charge of Charlie Co., 2nd Battalion, 238th General Support Aviation as the unit’s first female commander. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. David Cox)

FRANKFORT Ky. — Commanding Soldiers may be the highest responsibility for leaders in the National Guard and the Army. Capt. Jessica Tharp, the new and first female commander with Detachment 1, Company C, 2/238th General Support Aviation is prepared to take on that challenge and train her Soldiers. She does it while giving credit for her readiness to family and mentors who have helped her throughout her career.

Charlie Co., 2/238th  is Kentucky’s Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC) unit within the 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade.

“We provide support to the commonwealth with humanitarian assistance and rescue operations in the event those things are needed,” Tharp said. “We have hoist capabilities and a medic as part of the flight crew. We have a specific skill set and a capability set that we have to adhere to.”

In preparation for the unit’s duties at home, Tharp said her company will have important training with regional civil agencies.

“This summer we are doing swift water rescue with Jefferson County Fire Department and Lexington Fire Department. We are developing a rapport with these agencies so we are fully aware of how we can assist them when emergencies take place.”

Tharp who had previously served in 2/238th as a section leader is all too familiar with the needs of her Soldiers. “I am excited and ready for the training. One of my objects is to ensure that everyone is trained up and knows their job; it’s all about building unit cohesion.”

Tharp, who is a native of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, grew up with the military being an influence early in life.

“The last generation [in my family] to serve was my grandfather, Lee Agee and his brothers in WWII. He served as a Marine radio operator in the Pacific,” she said. “I actually have a copy of his last LES and separation paperwork in a leather envelope. I guess like many young children, I glamorized war and yearned to have those same experiences.”

That upbringing drove her to serve and set her personal goals high.

“I had something to prove to myself, to test my personal limits,” Tharp said. “I’ve always liked a challenge, that’s where you grow. You have to see all challenges through to the end.”

Tharp enlisted at age 17 as a logistics specialist, where she was assigned to 351st Aviation Support Battalion. Tharp said being in that environment influenced her to become a pilot.

“I was so young when I joined the military and my first unit being an aviation support unit [being around the flight officers], I just knew I wanted to become a commissioned officer and go into the aviation branch of service,” Tharp stated.

In 2008 she completed Officer Candidate School.

Although mentors have helped shape her career, Tharp credits her mother with her drive to excel despite any perceived disadvantages.

“I always thought growing up, why do the guys get to do all the cool stuff and get all the glory?” Tharp said jokingly. “My mother told me repeatedly I can be anything when I grow up as long as I am a productive member to society.”

“I could not do what I do without my mother,” Tharp said. “She helps make my career possible with the support she gives.”

Tharp doesn’t hide from her milestone as the first female MEDEVAC commander, but her confidence as an aviator and competence as a Soldier are the credentials that position her as a trend-setter in the modern Army.

“In the past 16 years I have served, I have seen more women break down barriers,” she said. “The fact that all combat MOSs are available and open to women is a great achievement.”

About sraymond