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NEWS | Jan. 27, 2020

From the desert to the cockpit: Army Reserve aviator shares her story

By Capt. James Kim 364th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary)

U.S. Army Reserve Capt. Leyla Zeinalpour, Commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 364th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), is the first in her family to join the military. Zeinalpour shares her story as an Army Reserve Soldier, Apache and Blackhawk pilot, and the values of hard work, teamwork, staying focused and always doing the right thing whether in or out of uniform.

From a young age while growing up in Iran, Zeinalpour always knew she wanted to become a pilot. She had a passion for flying. In 2000, she immigrated to the U.S. with her family for better life and educational opportunities. While going through college at Indiana University in Kokomo, Indiana, and contemplating her future and finances for school, she received an advertisement in the mail about “college money,” and without hesitation she picked up the phone and connected with a U.S. Army Reserve recruiter.

Zeinalpour first enlisted in the U.S. Army as a 92A (Automated Logistical Specialist) and later branched as an Aviation officer after completing Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) at Indiana University-Purdue University of Indianapolis. Zeinalpour had not planned to join the military, and it came as a surprise for her parents.

“I was determined to get an education in a U.S. university and the military made that possible. I will forever be grateful for that because that also made it possible for me to support and take care of my family,” she said.

Zeinalpour also understood that the Army Reserve was more than just about job opportunities. Gaining much knowledge and experience while in the Army made it possible for her to provide competent, capable, trained and ready personnel and leaders to get the job done.

For Zeinalpour, as a first-generation immigrant, assimilating to life in the U.S. came with its challenges: including language, cultural customs. But when she joined the Army in 2003, Zeinalpour felt a sense of belonging, like she was welcomed into a professional organization where she had an opportunity to serve and grow.

In 2010, Zeinalpour went to the Army Aviation School at Fort Rucker, Alabama. She was trained on flying the TH-67 Creek helicopter, OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopter, and became a qualified AH-64D Longbow Apache pilot. After graduating from aviation school in 2011, she returned to her unit, 8-229th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion (ARB), at Fort Knox, Kentucky, to further train and refine her skills as a new Longbow Apache aviator.

In 2014, she deployed to Kuwait with the 90th Aviation Support Battalion from Fort Worth, Texas. After deployment, she took a company command position with the 1st Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, 11th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade in Conroe, Texas Shortly after taking command, she went through the UH-60A/L Black Hawk helicopter qualification course and learned how to fly the U.S. Army’s primary medium lift utility transport and air assault aircraft.

Zeinalpour said she has been successful in her military career because she has never hesitated to do what is required to get the job done.

“It definitely has more meaning, representing all females, but also the people from the Middle East. Regardless of who you are and where you come from, you are able to choose your own path on how to serve, as I was, and doors opened based on the willingness to work hard,” she said.

Zeinalpour explained that in aviation, you have to stay on your toes.

“The most important thing is to have the passion for it, because not only you are responsible for the lives of everyone on board the aircraft, you’re also responsible for operating a multi-million dollar piece of equipment safely and competently, therefore you have to be a lifetime learner, constantly looking to refine your skills, increasing your knowledge, and becoming better each and every day,” she said.

Zeinalpour later branch transferred to logistics with the 79th Theater Sustainment Command, located in her hometown of Los Alamitos, California. In 2018, she transferred to the 364th ESC in Marysville, Washington. In her current assignment as commander of HHC, she is responsible for the readiness, training, health, morale, and welfare of over 200 Soldiers, readiness of over $11 million dollars’ worth of equipment, and for providing company-level administrative, training, maintenance and logistics support to the ESC command group and staff sections.

As commander, a big part of her job requires planning, organizing, equipping and providing resources to support individual and collective readiness in many different areas of training, administrative duties, maintenance, and supply, all of which enable prompt and sustained operations of ESC staff sections so they could execute their mission of providing sustainment operations.

“Innovative readiness training and monthly battle assemblies are some of the many ways we accomplish these tasks and through effective use of our time and resources,” she said, noting that having a professional team of strong, competent, and hardworking personnel, who make it happen day in and day out, is crucial to help commanders achieve their vision and goals to meet mission requirements.

She attributes the company’s success to the diversity of its Soldiers, creating a strong and innovative team who are able to balance the demands of their military and civilian careers, and adapting to the ever-evolving needs of the Army.

“When we cross paths and engage with people from all walks of life, not only do we realize the similarities between us but also come to the opportunity of acceptance and respect for our differences and service in the military certainly makes that possible,” she said.

The Army Reserve has also taught Zeinalpour the importance of balancing her military service and civilian ambitions. She is also grateful to her parents, her number one role models, for their unwavering love and support in all that she does, as well as the Army Reserve for helping her realize her potentials and becoming a better leader.

“I was always supported by the Army because of the values held by this great organization that reflects our American values,” she said.

After her command time at the 364th ESC, Zeinalpour plans to move on to more challenging and broadening assignments, to gain additional experience as a staff officer and to complete her civilian aviation training to work as an airline pilot.