Gretchen Moran Used to Ride Hartmans Now She Flies in the Middle East
July 30, 2009 -- Gretchen Moran used to ride mountain bikes at Hartman Rocks, now she flies helicopters in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The 2000 Western graduate is a chief warrant officer and helicopter pilot in the Army. She majored in biology and, "like everybody else got into rock climbing and mountain biking (while living in Gunnison)."
But skiing was her first interest. "I wanted a degree and I wanted to ski," she said.
At her home in the state of Washington she researched schools at the local library and decided to apply to Western and Fort Lewis (in Durango). Lucky for us she was accepted to Western first and she packed up her skis and was on her way.
In the academic realm she became fascinated with scientific research and the world of biology. "Jake Jones (who is now director of Wilderness Pursuits at Western) and I used to have competitions to see who got the best grades in our labs," she said.
"Robin Bingham (professor of biology) got me interested in botany and genetics," she added, "and she helped me write a grant for my research project with the Gunnison Milkvetch."
The Gunnison Milkvetch is a plant that is only found in Gunnison that she describes as, "a cute little plant that looks like a sweet pea with small leaves and flowers that are pink and purple."
Funded by a Thornton research grant, she ended up winning a 1st place prize at a TriBeta convention at Adams State in Alamosa. TriBeta is an honorary and professional society for students of the biological sciences.
After graduation she worked for the City of Gunnison for a year as a planning technician before joining the Army. "I've always been into yoga and non-violence so it was a weird dichotomy to join the military. But I never felt right about saying I was against the war because I haven't been there."
Moran was first stationed in Hawaii. After four months of training she was sent to Afghanistan where she spent two years. One experience that she recalled was flying around the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, and "almost getting blown up because of him."
She also remembers, "Landing on top of mountains to pick up troops to do an assault and being right in the middle of sagebrush. It smelled just like Gunnison."
She took pictures of cheat grass growing in Afghanistan and sent them to Art Hayes, who she worked with at the Bureau of Land Management in Gunnison. She also got involved in some humanitarian activities rendering aid to people who were landmine victims.
Moran also wrote an article for the Mountain Flyer, a mountain biking magazine that is based out of Gunnison. The subject was biking in Afghanistan. "If there weren't so many landmines I would tell everyone in the Gunnison Valley to go mountain biking there."
While in Afghanistan, in 2005, a major earthquake happened in Pakistan. The Army had her plan a mission with ten helicopters to bring aid to the victims. "I never realized how difficult this kind of work is," she said. "There was a lot of dead people and people who were badly injured.
Moran says the Army worked side by side with every country that has helicopters, providing food and tents, and flying those who needed medical attention out of the region. She estimates that the combined efforts helped rescue five thousand people and delivered 1.5 million tons of supplies and food.
Other deployments have brought her to Lebanon and most recently to Iraq. She is currently stationed in Bavaria, Germany.
Now she is near the end of her time in the military and will separate shortly. Because of an eye condition she will be a disabled veteran and hopes to get a federal job.
She also aspires to work with young people, educating them about war. "So many people (in the United States) base their judgments on information that is not accurate. There is not a holistic view of the war," she said.
"I never realized how intolerant I was until I joined the Army. The biggest thing I learned in the military was to practice tolerance."
And she hopes to visit the Gunnison Valley soon, "I really miss it."
Story by: Luke Mehall, assistant director of public relations
This piece originally appeared in the Fall 2008 issue of the Westerner, the WSC alumni magazine.