MOUNT VERNON — A Mount Vernon woman is a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter pilot, has had one tour of duty in Iraq from September 2007 through March 2008, and is expecting orders for another tour out of the country this spring.
Capt. Lisa Steinmetz, 28, flies a CH46E, a cargo and troop-carrying Vietnam-era helicopter she describes as old but very reliable. She said it is a low-maintenance ship that does yeoman duty in Iraq.
Steinmetz is a member of the Red Dragons HMM Tach, 268 squadron, based at Camp Pendleton, near San Diego, Calif. A 1999 graduate of Mount Vernon High School, she won appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. She compiled an outstanding academic record, graduating in 2003, 93rd in her class of 900. While at MVHS, she played four years of varsity basketball and was captain her senior year.
Steinmetz holds a degree in political science. She went to graduate school at Georgetown University, earning a master’s degree in security studies and the United States National Security Studies.
She then was accepted into the Marine Corps. The first level as a Marine is a rifleman; newbies are also known as “grunts.” All officers and enlisted personnel learn the art of combat during six months of training at the Marine training facility at Quantico, Va. Officers, including Steinmetz, are then trained as platoon leaders.
From there, it was on to her chosen military career, aviation. Steinmetz said flying is the best way for a female Marine to be in the fight, to help the men on the ground. She said it was her way of getting into the action, because women are not allowed in ground combat.
Qualified for flight training, she went to Pensacola Naval Air Station to learn to fly fixed-wing aircraft. Primary flight training was in T-34’s, small, two-place basic training planes. Manufactured by Beechcraft for the Navy, they have turboprop engines. Steinmetz recalls that they are energetic and maneuverable, great aerobatic planes and great fun to fly.
When her training was completed, however, the Marine Corps decided it had enough fixed-wing pilots, so she was sent to helicopter training at Whiting Field.
Flight training is rigorous, Steinmetz recalls, much tougher than college schooling. She said cadets have to be ready every day and are held to high standards. In June 2006, in less than 20 months, she graduated and received her wings as a helicopter pilot. From there she joined her squadron at Camp Pendleton.
In addition to flying, Steinmetz is the squadron maintenance officer for ordnance, and also is in charge of flight equipment. A dozen Marines in a small shop actually perform the jobs; she describes these enlisted personnel as hard workers, “just awesome” at their jobs.
Arriving in Iraq in September 2007, Steinmetz’s squadron was soon busy flying supplies and troops in and around the battle zones. The helicopters can fly 12 combat-loaded Marines along with two door gunners manning 50-caliber machine guns. Steinmetz said her tour was compartively peaceful, and her gunners never fired their guns. Their missions did have helicopter gunships as escorts.
Steinmetz said there was an occasional VIP flight, in which they flew to Iraqi villages, landed on the main streets and got to see Iraq close up and in person while meeting tribal leaders. They also flew civilian contractors working for the military to the areas in which they were working. There was also the occasional celebrity entertainer; Travis Tritt was a favorite, she said. Steinmetz recalled on one flight civilians were evacuated, including a mother and baby, to the Al Taqaddum Airbase.
The always-blowing sand is very destructive to the turbine engines that power helicopters. Steinmetz said the older engines on the ships she flew fared pretty well, but engines on the newer gunships took a beating, with the sand pitting the impeller blades in the engines.
She said she enjoys Camp Pendleton, where the Marines train five days a week. The Corps maintains a five-day week. She lives off base in nearby Carlsbad, Calif. On her time off, Steinmetz said she plays basketball with Naval Academy classmates who are assigned in the area, and bicycles on the Pacific Coast Highway.
Her military career will continue, as she still has 3 1/2 years of the seven years graduates of U.S. military academies are required to serve. Steinmetz said she is still mulling over a number of options after she completes her military service.