Lt. Careen* Noelle "Sweaty" Palm

Pilot : F/A-18 Hornet

palm_vt7_200.jpg America's women warriors

Meet a real-life top gun in one of the first wars in which women have flown in combat.

Nov. 2 - It's not often we get to meet one of the F-18 pilots. If you've ever wondered what it takes to be a genuine Top Gun you're about to meet one of the bravest and best of America's fighter pilots. I think many of you will be mighty surprised to find out who is at the leading edge of the war against the Taliban because she's not the only one.


Ann Curry reports from the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

"I think of women on this ship as tigresses," says Commander Diana Cangelosi. "They're mad about Sept. 11 and this is a chance for us to do something to defend our way of life and everything we stand for."
The aircraft carrier U.S.S. Roosevelt is more than 1,000 feet long, higher than a 24-story building, propelled by two nuclear reactors and capable of catapulting warplanes off her deck at 150 miles an hour. It takes 5,500 sailors to wage war from this floating city and in the new Navy 740 of them are women.

"Being a fighter pilot is where it's at," says Lt. Careen "Sweaty" Palm. "You always want to fly the fast planes, and the fighter missions, that's where my dream came from. ...Being a fighter pilot is where it's at. You always want to fly the fast planes, and the fighter missions, that's where my dream came from."
Lots of officers on board outrank them but the Roosevelt's fighter pilots, the top guns, like 28-year-old Palm, are the ship's top dogs. The warplanes they fly are the principal reason this floating arsenal is out here. Their job is incredibly dangerous from takeoff to touchdown.

"The Tomcat is a beast to fly," says Palm. "It's probably one of the hardest planes to land on the boat and it's exhilarating that I can actually do that and force myself to do that sometimes, because there are some times out there where it is the blackest nights with no horizon and you're like, I have to go and land on that little piece of metal down there."


With all the danger comes immense responsibility: the F-14 pilots make the final decision on releasing their targeted bombs. It involves bombing places with people in them. Does that give the pilots pause?

"Not really, it's one of the misfortunes of war," says Palm. "You know intell gives us targets with minimal collateral damage. If we don't feel comfortable with the target or we don't feel right about the target we can come back with the bombs, which we do all the time," she says.

The lieutenant minimizes the danger of being shot down and captured over Afghanistan. It's all part of her job.


Throughout the Roosevelt there are women on deck. Commander Diana Cangelosi was one of the Navy's first women aviators. Today she commands the Roosevelt's Combat Direction Center.

"I know that when I was in ROTC they wanted me to quit," says Cangelosi. "In those days women couldn't fly fighters. I wasn't eligible at the time." For Cangelusi, fighter pilots like Lt. Palm represent a change for the better, for the Navy and the nation. "They've gotten up and done something that's hard," says Cangelosi. "I'm so proud of all these young women. I wish I could be young with them. It's remarkable."

To a younger generation of Navy women, carrier flight deck duty is simply an excellent adventure. One says,
"It's like totally, totally awesome. Like really wow." Another says, "Totally awesome except it messes up your hair and makes you totally doglike."

But for one young mother aboard the Roosevelt there are mixed emotions in these tough times.

"It makes me angry that we have to do this," says Marie Forkin. "Defend ourselves against people who won't show their face." Forkin, a mother of three and an electrical technician, misses her children but finds some comfort in the exhaustion of combat duty. "It's easier if you're just so tired," she says. "You don't have time to hurt too much. You make the mistake of thinking about bedtime songs."

She knows there are good reasons to be here, half a world away from her kids, and has tried to explain it to them.

"My 10-year-old has an idea that we're out here fighting a war," she says. "My 4-year-old knows I'm fighting bad guys. It makes me want to do what I have to do to get home."

* also seen as Carrine

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