CAMP MABRY, Texas - The Texas Army National Guard's first female aviator recently retired after more than thirty years of service in the National Guard, achieving the rank of colonel.
Deanne E. "Dea" Lins of Austin was the Army National Guard's first female aviator in three different states - Connecticut, Massachusetts and Texas. During her career, she flew UH-1 Iroquois, also known as Huey, and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, from the mid-1980s into the late '90s.
During the second half of her career, she held various positions, including service as an airspace management officer on deployments to the South Korea and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Later she served in logistics, personnel and human resources specialties, and deployed to Iraq in support of Operation New Dawn. She concluded her career at the Texas Military Forces' Joint Force Headquarters here.
Lins began her military career through the Reserve Officer Training Corps program at the University of Bridgeport, in Bridgeport, Conn., where she was a distinguished graduate in 1983. After serving in Connecticut, then Massachusetts, Lins joined the Texas Army National Guard in 1986.
She moved to Texas with her husband, Tony, a fellow aviator that was serving in the active-duty Army, she said. At the time, he was stationed at Fort Hood, near Killeen, and then later joined the Texas National Guard.
At one point, they served together in the 49th Aviation Brigade, which later became the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade, headquartered in Austin. Tony, a retired major, concluded his military service as the resource manager for the Texas Army National Guard's 36th Infantry Division, headquartered here.
Lins described her transition to Texas from the Northeast.
"Coming into Texas wasn't hard for me," Lins said. "But I do know it was difficult for some of the men."
There were cultural adjustments that had to be worked through, she said, but added that her fellow pilots were generally welcoming.
"Some of the men were Vietnam era pilots," Lins said. "They were wonderful, [and I] had some wonderful mentors. They took everyone - all the new people - and really tried making them the best they could be."
While proud, Lins downplayed the perception of her being a pioneer.
"I was the first female aviator (in Texas)," she said, but noted that there were two other females working their way into Army aviation at the time, including now Cols. Jeanne (Buschow) Arnold, director of the Texas Military Forces Red Team Support Group here, and Lisa Hines, director of support for the Joint Force here.
She said they all flew during the same period.
From her experience, Lins said some of the greatest hurdles she faced being an early female aviator involved living in field conditions, a challenge she later tackled as a company commander, then as a battalion commander.
"It doesn't really matter which sex you are, both sides have their own issues," Lins said. "How do you balance being close enough to hear and know what's going on in the unit, in an informal chain-of-command way, without having to break modesty?"
Lins found it to be important for all Soldiers to be in close proximity in field conditions, because important discussions can take place and decisions can be made impacting the unit.
"The next day, you might miss a meeting because you didn't know," she said. "You didn't know what was going on."
As a commander, she worked through these complexities with her noncommissioned officers, some of whom said their spouses had concerns with mixed gender cohabitation. But they found a way to address the issue.
"We set up bivouac when we got home for the Family Day activities," Lins said. "We set it all up as if we were in the field, with all of the curtains and all the different things that we do. I think that really helped."
Further, she said she enjoyed building close-knit relationships in the National Guard. Many she has had for decades.
One such relationship is with Col. Patrick M. Hamilton, the adjutant general's chief of staff, who said he met Lins and her husband two decades ago, when he was an armored cavalry officer assigned to the aviation brigade.
"In the early '90s we got to know each other," Hamilton said. "Dea was a well respected pilot, and she was competent - and everybody liked her."
Hamilton discussed another barrier Lins broke during her career, when they deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina with the 49th Armored Division in support of Operation Joint Forge.
"In 1999, we prepared for and deployed together," he said. "Dea was on the division staff with me, she was our G3-Air (air battlefield manager), a first (for a female Army Guard officer) that I know of. We were the first Guard division to go and command active duty troops in Bosnia."
"Everything was on the other foot with them," Hamilton said of the deployment. "He (Tony) had the kids at home, and Dea and I were deployed together."
Beyond the challenges, Lins said there were many benefits to serving in the National Guard.
Lins said her military service proved to be a stabilizing force in her life, particularly when balancing her life commitments.
"I don't know if it's a lot different from anyone else," Lins said. "Being a mom and having a career in the National Guard, I think is a huge benefit."
"I didn't have to suffer much in that career. I could continue that career, in my case almost 32 years," she said. "I was able to continue a National Guard career all this time."
"If you're in the Guard, you're family," she said. "Through the years, you're going to go in-and-out of each other's career. You'll know these same people for many, many years. You might not see somebody for ten years, (and) then you're working with them again."
She looked back on an exceptional career with pride.
"I wouldn't trade a thing," Lins said. "I wouldn't trade any of it."