Helen Hanlon Ward, U.S. Air Force, 2001-2011

Helen Hanlon Ward was a staff sergeant who served in Intelligence in Afghanistan and Iraq



Ms. Ward is Chookaneidi from the Iceberg House in Glacier Bay.

She graduated from high school early and wanted to go to college, figuring she could afford this through a branch of the military.  She spoke with an Air Force recruiter and enlisted at 17.  Ms. Ward wanted to work in Intelligence.

Her Basic Training was in San Antonio, Texas, which she describes as “hot, humid, insects, snakes and a lot of yelling- we learned quick what you can and cannot do!” 

Ms. Ward served with both the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) a NATO-led military mission in Afghanistan (established by the United Nations Security Council and part of Operation Enduring Freedom) and the 777th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron,  a provisional United States Air Force squadron activated in Iraq for Operation Enduring Freedom which flew airlift missions in Iraq until inactivating in May 2011.

She received the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Force Commendation Medal and the Joint Service Achievement Medal.  She also served as an Intelligence Collection Manager in Afghanistan. 

She was awarded the John L. Levitow Award- the highest award for enlisted Professional Military Education in the Air Force.  This award is presented to the student who demonstrates the most outstanding leadership and scholastic achievement throughout Airman Leadership School, The Commissioned Officers Academy and the Senior Non-Commissioned Officers Academy.  Only one student receives this award in each class and classes can vary in size, depending on base or school. Class estimates for each school could be approximately 48 for ALS, 100 for NCOA and 300 for SNCOA.

In Iraq, Ms. Ward worked with weapons intelligence teams, doing Intelligence for them.  She was 19- or 20-years old traveling in a HMMWV (Humvee) with Americans, Italians and Japanese working to identify enemy explosives. She realizes now that it was “Probably one of my best assignments!” 

Later, Ms. Ward found herself as a Predator Operator, flying missions every day in Iraq and Afghanistan, while she herself was comfortable in Las Vegas, Nevada and she felt that was strange.  

Of her time overseas she said, “you can work, work out, you can sleep, and you can eat.” She finished her undergraduate degree while deployed to Afghanistan.  A marathon runner, she used to run around the city ancient city of Ur, she also read a lot.  In Afghanistan, many of her fellow servicemen loved her because her Mom sent a package every week, without fail, which often included smoked salmon strips.  For a short time, she was in Korea, with the 8th Army and loved it- it made her feel like home, how the Koreans feel about their culture, their food and respect for their elders.  Among other places she spent time in Tokyo, Honduras, and many cities in the U.S.

Ms. Ward would not really take many vacations, she would rather see family at home.  Due to a medical issue, on November 19, 2010 she had to retire at the young age of 26.  After retirement, Ms. Hanlon-Ward completed two Masters Degrees using her G.I. Bill. She continues to provide support to the military as a contractor.