A Female Army Helicopter Pilot

Shannon served as an Army Helicopter pilot. She was one of the first women to fill the role as an Apache Helicopter pilot as women were not allowed to serve in combat aircraft until 1993. Today, she takes the lessons she learned from the cockpit and corporate life as an author and speaker. Her newest book The Grit Factor: Courage, Resilience and Leadership in the Most Male Dominated Organization in the World is the book she wished she would have had earlier in life as she had to make tough decisions. She interviewed women to share their experiences and lessons learned along with tying in her own experiences from both military and corporate life.

Women of the Military would like to thank Sabio Coding Bootcamp for sponsoring this week’s episode! Sabio Coding Bootcamp is a top-ranked coding Bootcamp that is 100% dedicated to helping smart and highly motivated individuals become exceptional software engineers.  Visit their website www.Sabio.la to learn how you may be able to use your GI Bill benefits to train at Sabio.  Your tuition and a monthly BAH stipend may be paid during your training period.  They also are 100% committed to helping you find your first job in tech.  Don’t forget to head over to www.Sabio.la to learn more today. 

One of the first female Army Helicopter Pilots

Shannon joined the Army as a way to pay for college. She wasn’t sure she would like the Army and ROTC gave her an option to try it out before committing. Originally, she planned to serve in the National Guard but ended up serving on active duty. She wanted to fly and as luck would have it the law that allowed women to fly in combat aircraft changed the summer (1993) she went active duty.  This opened the doors to every aircraft and she ended up becoming one of the first women Apache helicopter pilots.

army helicopter pilot shannon huffman polson

Army Helicopter Pilot

While flight school had its challenges she didn’t feel they were gender-related until she went to her first operational unit. There were 120 male pilots and her. There had never been women and some people did not know how to treat her. Some were too nice, others too mean, and then the people who were normal. She had a great Commander and Platoon Sgt. She ended up leaving that unit because she wanted the opportunity to deploy to Bosnia and her sister battalion had been chosen for that mission. Part of her experience in Bosnia in her book The Grit Factor and how the experiences she learned from it helped her.

She also deployed to Korea for a year, which was not the assignment she was hoping for. And when she had her leave she decided to travel instead of coming home stateside. Traveling to Australia and China after that coming back to the Army base was almost unbearable. She was ready to leave the Army but still had to finish her commitment. Even though, she tried to extend in Korea the Army sent her to Fort Bliss. There she worked to help plan exercises and was on a month home a month gone rotation. The general she worked for asked what she needed to stay in the Army and she told him her dream assignment and follow on. He made it happen but she decided to turn it down and leave the military in July 2001.


Transitioning out of the military

Shannon struggled with finding her purpose after serving. Especially after the attacks on September 11th. She thinks about how much her life changed by leaving the military before that event happened. But she wanted a family and not the travel and challenges Army life meant for being a mom. She worked in corporate America for a time. And then with the tragic accident of her parent’s death by a Grizzle Bear in Alaska, she began to pursue writing from more than a hobby and published her first book North of Hope.

She found a passion for writing and helping others. Then she was asked by a Lieutenant if she would be her mentor. This led to her starting to think of the ways she could help not only this young lady but others who needed mentorship. From that experience, she created the Grit Insitute, which led to her second book, The Grit Factor.

Connect with Shannon:


Books (affiliate links):

North of Hope

The Grit Factor

Related Episodes

First Woman Thunderbird Pilot – Episode 93

Before Women Could Be Fighter Pilots – Episode 29

The Stories of Women Veteran Authors – Episode 115

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