A Sad First
Captain Kimberly Nicole Hampton was the Commander of Delta Troop, 1st Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, the armed reconnaissance aviation squadron of the 82nd Airborne Division. She was also the first female military pilot in United States history to be shot down and killed due to hostile fire.
The day was January 2nd, 2004. Another pilot was slated to lead the mission that day, but Kim insisted on doing it herself because of the level of danger involved. She was piloting an OH-58D Kiowa Warrior just outside of Fallujah, Iraq, providing cover for ground troops raiding an illicit weapons marketplace. Her aircraft took heavy ground fire, causing it to crash, killing her instantly. She was 27 years old.
She was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, Air Medal, and Purple Heart.
A Small Town Girl
Kim was an all-American girl from a small South Carolina mill town. She was student body president, ROTC battalion commander, a West Point appointee, and a nationally ranked (18th in the country) college tennis player. Hampton decided to stay close to home for school and attended Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC. She graduated and received her commission as a second lieutenant in 1998.
Her dreams of becoming a pilot were deeply rooted. At her graduation from rotary-wing flight school at Ft. Rucker, her parents presented her with a framed composition she had written in third grade, saying she “would like to fly like a bird.”
On her first overseas assignment, Hampton was stationed in South Korea for two years, where she flew along the DMZ and tutored Korean children in English in her spare time. She later spent three months at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, coordinating aerial support missions during our campaign to oust the Taliban and hunt for Al-Qaeda operatives. She admitted to being somewhat frustrated during this time because she was not able to log much flight time.
As an officer, she earned the respect of both males and females in her command. Her mother says she never felt discriminated against or treated unfairly as an unmarried female pilot in a male-dominated field.
“It was never an issue,” Ann Hampton said. “[Women] were looked as soldiers who wanted to be pilots, not as whether they were male or female.”
A Message Home From the War Zone
Captain Hampton had taken over command of Delta Troop just months before her death. Her parents were understandably concerned for the safety and well-being of their only child, an aviator in a war zone. Whenever possible, Kim tried to put them at ease.
In one of her last letters home to her parents, she wrote:
“…conflicts are inevitable. America’s best should be dedicated to serving in those conflicts—without fear and without hesitation. I’m sure there are people who no longer support the U.S. military or the government, but whether I agree with what we do or not, I have a duty and an obligation to serve. I may be one of the few people who still consider it a privilege and an honor to serve my country.”
Her funeral was attended by just about everyone in her small hometown of Easley, SC. There are scholarships offered in her memory, and the name of the local library was changed in her honor. Little kids learn about her in school. Her sacrifice will not be forgotten anytime soon.
Captain Hampton’s legacy lives on in Army Aviation as well. During her time in the service, she motivated many skilled pilots to be even better.
She was a leader and a patriot.
May she rest in Peace.