RICHMOND, Va. –
As a little girl, the sound of helicopter rotor blades spinning over 1st Lt. Valerie Harter’s house would send her running. Her childhood home lay in the flight path of medical evacuation helicopters flying to and from her local hospital. When she heard the rotor blades, whatever she was doing was quickly forgotten and anything that blocked her path to a clear view of the aircraft overhead was demolished.
On March 11, 2023, Harter took command of the Virginia National Guard’s Medevac detachment, the Chesterfield-based Detachment 2, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 169th Aviation Regiment, in a ceremony held at the Virginia National Guard’s Army Aviation Support Facility in Sandston, Virginia. Instead of staring into the skies marveling at the aircraft up above, she’s piloting them.
Despite Harter’s lifelong love of aviation, it wasn’t her initial career field when she joined the Virginia National Guard in 2012. She talked to several recruiters during her senior year of high school and carefully weighed her options. She was planning to attend nursing school at the University of Virginia and the National Guard seemed liked the best fit.
“The Army National Guard has more education benefits than any other service branch or their respective components,” Harter said. UVA allowed her to defer her enrollment for a year while she completed basic and advanced training as a 94E Radio Communications Security Repairer. Then, she maximized usage of the National Guard’s educational benefits to achieve her goals.
“Even though many of my peers were a year ahead of me, my delayed enrollment was one of the key stepping stones to graduating with a bachelor’s degree and a registered nurse license debt free,” Harter said, explaining that the Simultaneous Membership Program, or SMP, was a key component to avoiding the financial burden of college debt. While part of the SMP, Soldiers drill with their National Guard unit, earning a monthly paycheck, while also participating in ROTC. Cadets earn a monthly allowance, and can qualify for scholarships that cover 100 percent of their tuition costs.
While Harter was in school, working toward her nursing degree, she learned about the Virginia National Guard’s aviation capabilities, and most interestingly for her, the Medevac detachment.
“The thought of flying helicopters for a Medevac company was so appealing to me that I commissioned aviation instead of nurse corps,” Harter said.
Now, more than a decade later and newly in command, Harter serves as a neonatal ICU nurse on the civilian side. She works at the hospital three days a week, caring for the tiniest of humans, usually flies once a week and is now working toward becoming a regional airline pilot.
“Again, the military is paying for this upcoming schooling,” Harter said, explaining that she’s using her Post 9/11 GI Bill to pay for her Airline Transport Pilot Certificate. “I consider myself very fortunate in my education as the Army National Guard has invested over $2 million in my education.”
One of the best parts of Harter’s military experience to date is the first time she hovered a helicopter. She said there’s nothing quite like it.
“As I grow in my career, it gives me a ton of joy when I see others around me hitting their own career milestones, using education benefits and ultimately succeeding in their life goals,” she said.
As a woman in uniform, Harter said she’s thankful for the representation she sees at events like the all-female flyover of F-35C fighter jets during this year’s Super Bowl.
“It’s awesome to see groups of people you identify with seeking common interests,” Harter said. “When you feel represented, it gives you confidence and inspiration to go after your dreams.”