April 6, 2018 3:49 pm

When veteran aviator and Command Chief Warrant Officer Teresa Burgess was assigned to a Christmas Day mission in Iraq in 2007, she looked forward to another opportunity to support and assist the troops on the ground. The operation included transporting commanders to remote outposts, allowing them to visit and share a meal with soldiers, and delivering mail to troops stationed around Baghdad.

Supporting and serving the troops meant more to her than the fact that she helped make history by leading the first female-run Black Hawk helicopter mission flown under combat conditions. “I never really think of it as making history,” she said. “It wasn’t necessarily about making history because, to me, it was just about completing another mission.”

From start to finish, the two-helicopter operation was performed entirely by females, with Burgess serving as air mission commander.

Growing up in a military family, Burgess had always been interested in careers in the Army. After discovering a warrant officer flight training program she could enter after graduating high school, she knew she had found her path. After graduation, she attended basic training, warrant officer candidate school, and flight school before being stationed at Fort Lewis with the Washington National Guard.

It didn’t take long for her to look into earning her college degree to further set herself apart from other warrant officers. Pierce College offered an extension site on base, and featured the flexibility she needed to continue working and going to school.

“Back in the early 1980s, there were no online classes, so the flexibility Pierce College offered was very important,” Burgess said. “It made the decision to come to Pierce very easy.”

She was able to work during the day and attend nearby classes in the evenings, eventually earning an Associate in Technology degree. “The idea of going to college back then was not as big of a deal as it is today,” she said. “But I wanted to make myself more competitive in the military by furthering my education, since warrant officers are not required to have a college degree.”

There was a sense of camaraderie in her classes, and she recalls getting together with fellow soldiers and classmates to study together on a regular basis. “It was a wonderful experience studying with soldiers from all ranks and branches,” Burgess said. “It made the experience that much nicer.”

Burgess did not necessarily set out to spend her entire career in the Washington National Guard but calls it an experience that opened many doors in her life. She spent a great deal of time participating in domestic operations missions, serving citizens of Washington state and beyond. She has performed missions supporting first responders during large-scale natural disasters, and also served as a medevac pilot, transporting sick or wounded patients from combat areas or accident sites. She also spent three weeks supporting Hurricane Katrina disaster relief efforts.

“Katrina was a prolonged event, so we were able to help by relieving Louisiana National Guard members so they could go back to their families,” Burgess said. “I’ve been fortunate to be able to serve this state and our country as a whole, and I’ve really enjoyed the work.”

Burgess is one of four Pierce College Distinguished Alumni who will be honored during a special celebration on April 12 in Puyallup. “I was so surprised and very proud to be named a Distinguished Alum,” she said.

This year’s Distinguished Alumni celebration and dinner takes place April 12 in Pierce College Puyallup’s College Center Building Multipurpose Room. The reception will begin at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $50, available for purchase using our online ticketing system.