Linda Plock wore a lot of hats during her 20 years with the Nebraska Army National Guard.

After joining the Guard in 1973, the Lincoln woman was a helicopter mechanic.

And a flight medic/crew chief.

And a journalist for the Guard newsletter.

And a Combat Lifesaver instructor.

On Sept. 24, she’ll don another hat, as one of more than 130 veterans on the first Female Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.

Bill and Evonne Williams of Patriotic Productions in Omaha have taken more than 3,500 veterans on one-day Honor Flights to the nation’s capital. This is the first time they’ve exclusively honored female veterans, all of whom volunteered for military service.

The flight will consist entirely of women, including Loretta Swit, who played Maj. Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan on the hit TV series "M*A*S*H."

Swit is the guest speaker for the pre-flight dinner Sept. 23 at the Embassy Suites in La Vista. The dinner is open to the public and tickets are $100.

Plock is excited about Swit's appearance.

"I'm looking forward to meeting her. We get to have our picture taken with her," Plock said Thursday. "She has done so much for us." 

The public is also invited to Eppley Airfield at 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 24 to welcome home the veterans and show support for their service to their country.

While in Washington, the veterans will visit military memorials, attend a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery and have lunch at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial.

* * *

Plock always wanted to fly.

In fact, she was a member of the Civil Air Patrol while at Lincoln High. 

She was a grad student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1973 when she decided to serve her country.

Plock wanted to fly helicopters for the National Guard. She was told no. So she did the next best thing: training to be a helicopter mechanic, and becoming the first female copter mechanic in the U.S. armed forces.

"The Army was upset, because I wasn't regular Army. I was National Guard," she said.

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Being a woman in a male-dominated field, "You had to have a thick skin and a warped sense of humor.”

She was a member of the 24th Medical Air Ambulance Company based in Lincoln.

The first 17 years of her service were spent in the U.S. But in November 1990, the 24th Medical Company was activated for the Persian Gulf War, becoming the first Nebraska group to be called to combat since World War II.

"For years, we all thought we would be going to Germany, and points beyond that. (Saudi Arabia) came out of nowhere," said Plock, who was among nearly a dozen women deployed with her company.

The 24th Medical Company left for Saudi Arabia the day after Christmas in 1990 and Plock spent half a year there, some of it running med-evac operations near the Iraqi border.

"We would fly into Iraq, and there were tents set up, like "M*A*S*H," for medical evacuations," she said. "You pick 'em (injured soldiers) up, and drop them off (at hospital tents)."

If you were on the ready crews, "You don't just get into too big a snooze, because you're on duty (24/7). When the call comes, you go out, fly the copter and pick them up."

The copter pilots in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm were some of the first to use GPS. Plock said they needed it, since the barren landscape of sand and sky had few visual landmarks.

Plock remembers a close call on a med-evac flight. The crew heard a loud buzzing in their helmet headphones. It meant the helicopter had been locked in on by an enemy weapon. The helicopter quickly descended so that it was skimming just 25 feet above the desert, below enemy surveillance, and safely got to its destination.

Plock has some photos of her time in the Persian Gulf, but nothing like what those in the service now probably have.

“We had to hide our cameras,” she said. The media was not allowed in the area because of security and public-relations concerns. The living conditions were primitive, and the soldiers were at war, after all.

When the war was over, Plock stayed behind and ran an aid station in the port of Jubail, Saudi Arabia. She and the other medics there treated anyone who needed assistance.

Plock retired from the National Guard in 1993. Now she's an ethnobotanist — studying man's use of plants — and works as an archaeologist with the National Park Service.

"It's hard to get into archaeology. I tried for years and years to get into my field," she said. "There's lots of prejudice."

It was the same situation she faced in the military. But she persevered.

"You have to keep proving yourself," she said. "Deal with it and fight all the time."

Plock has donated most of her military gear to the Nebraska National Guard Museum in Seward.

That is, everything but her boonie hat.

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