US Army Major Marie Rossi-Cayton was a CH-47D pilot serving in the First Gulf War. She died on March 1, 1991, when the helicopter she was piloting flew into an unlit microwave tower the day after the Operation Desert Storm ceasefire had come into effect. What most do not know about her, nor can you find when searching for information about her on the internet, was that at the time of the Gulf War she was the only female combat certified Aircraft Commander in the Army. And unless you have heard former United States Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh speak about her, might also never learn the true depth of her courage.
In his November 2011 speech at the United States Air Force Academy, Gen. Welsh recounts an event during the first day of the ground war. He was up on a common strike frequency when it was reported that an F-16 pilot was shot down over the retreating Republican Guard armored division. The coordinates of the unlucky pilot were passed along with the request for anyone with the weapons and fuel to support a search and rescue effort to call back. Gen. Welsh recalls looking at the coordinates, looking at his map and thinking “Oh man. That is a bad place to be on the ground” and there was a deadly silence on the radio. Until an Army helicopter pilot said, “Look, I’ve got the gas. I can get there. I’ll go pick him up.” It was Major Marie Rossi.
“I’m thinking, “that’s the size of a double-decker bus in London. It’s got no guns and you’re going to fly that thing into the middle of a retreating Iraqi armored division to pick up one pilot?” First on my life, I’ve ever said “Hooh-rah”. I was impressed.” — General Mark A. Welsh, USAF (retired)
Gen. Welsh wanted to find her, meet her, and tell her “thank you” because she was “inspirational at a time when people needed it.” He was finally able to find her, but he could not thank her in person.
“Two days after the war ended, she and her crew were called out at two in the morning to pick up a soldier whose arms have been blown up by trying to pick up cluster munitions. She picked him up and was heading back to their base on the Saudi-Iraq border when they hit an unlit radio tower. The helicopter crashed and they were all killed.” — General Mark A. Welsh, USAF (retired)
Gen. Welsh finished his story about Major Rossi with a leadership lesson: “You better be willing to make decisions because you’re going to need to and you’re going to need to make them without all the information you’d like and you’re going to need to make them when people’s lives are at stake and you’re not going to always have time to ask for somebody else to help you. Get ready.”
Major Rossi was ready. When the call came, she alone answered. She made the decision to go. She had the courage to trust her training and trust her crew. She had the courage to fly into an uncertain environment, without all the information, to save a life.
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said “Here am I. Send me!” — Isaiah 6:8
Major Rossi, thank you for your example. Thank you for your courage.
You can listen to Gen. Welsh recount the story here. The entire video is worth the time to watch. The portion about Major Rossi starts at 32:05.