FORT BLISS, Texas -- A pioneering Army aviator has landed at Fort Bliss.
Col. Carey M. Wagen, of St. Petersburg, Fla., took over as commander of the 1st Armored
Division Combat Aviation Brigade on Thursday.
Wagen, a helicopter pilot, is the first woman to command a combat aviation brigade and just the
second female commander of any aviation brigade in the Army.
"I think of myself as a soldier first, then an aviator and then I look at my gender. I believe that's
how the Army looks at me," Wagen said shortly after a change of command ceremony that
was driven inside an aviation hangar by rainy weather.
"I'm in this job because of what I've done as a soldier and aviator," she said.
Wagen's background is in light infantry divisions and this is the first time she's served with an
"But helicopters fly the same," she said.
Previously, she was the deputy director of aviation for operations for Forces Command at Fort
Bragg, N.C. She has deployed twice to Afghanistan.
The 1st Armored Division Combat Aviation Brigade uses helicopters to provide full-spectrum air
support to ground troops, including attack and assault capabilities, medical evacuation, cargo,
heavy lifting and command and control.
The unit has about 2,600 soldiers, about half of them deployed in Afghanistan and Kuwait. The
deployed troops are scheduled to return to Fort Bliss later this year.
"I'm excited," Wagen said. "I'm looking forward to the challenges of redeploying half of the
brigade back from Kuwait and Afghanistan and rebuilding the team for whatever challenges lie
She is married to Richard Wagen and they have two sons, Jared, 11, and Christian, 9.
"I don't consider myself to be a trailblazer," she said. "I have a lot of great mentors, who happen
to be male and female, who have helped me along the path. I consider myself to be one of those
fortunate officers who have been given the opportunity to command."
She replaces Col. Lonnie G. Hibbard, who had commanded the unit since it relocated from Fort Hood in September 2011.
The unit was formerly the 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division when it was at Fort Hood.
Its arrival at Fort Bliss was part of the Base Realignment and Closure process and it helped fill a void left by the departure of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment to Fort Carson, Colo., in the mid-1990s, Hibbard said.
"I'm going to miss Fort Bliss and El Paso, and I'm going to miss this unit and the people," said Hibbard, of Apple Valley, Minn. "When you stand with a unit, you have a lot of time and emotional and physical energy invested."
Hibbard and his wife, Gail, will move to Fort Bragg, where he will become director of Army aviation for Forces Command.