Melissa Bell, a stay-at-home mother of three, enjoys spending her days hanging out with her young children and shuttling them to and from sports’ activities, dentist appointments, and playdates. It’s a far cry from the days she spent piloting Black Hawk helicopters in Iraq and beyond as a soldier in the United States Army.
Bell, 41, of Williamsburg spent more than 10 years flying for the Army. She grew up a part of a military family in Oklahoma. Her father was in the United States Army Reserves. She later followed her older sister to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
“I always knew I wanted to fly,” Bell said. “Aviation just seemed like a lot of fun to me.”
After graduating from West Point in 1997, Bell was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army and moved on to flight school in Alabama. There, she trained to fly various aircraft, including a TH-67 helicopter and a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.
Her first assignment was a three-year gig at Giebelstadt, an Army airfield in Germany. During that time, Bell deployed to Albania in Southeastern Europe and to Tunisia in Northern Africa.
“Being able to travel around Europe during that time was a perk,” she said. “Before that, I had never been outside of the United States before. The people there were so friendly and kind to us. It was a great place to be and a great place for me to learn the skills to fly.”
In 2002, Bell was reassigned to Fort Campbell in Kentucky, where she spent the next five years, deploying twice to Iraq.
“Going to Iraq was scary at first because we didn’t really know what was happening or what we would be facing,” Bell recalled. “But it was a great location to grow in aviation, and to really hone my skills for all types of flying and conditions. I also really learned how to trust my fellow crew members.”
Bell met her husband, Joseph, while stationed at Fort Campbell. The pair married in 2005. Bell left the Army two years later, and she and her husband moved to Williamsburg in 2013 after Joseph was assigned to Fort Eustis.
Bell no longer flies, but she relishes her memories as a pilot. She logged more than 1,100 flight hours during her stint in the Army, spending time in the air roughly three times a week.
“I loved everything about being up in the air,” Bell said. “I loved the way being in a helicopter felt, the way it smelled. I loved flying for the Army, and the mission. I loved being a part of the crew and being a leader. It was a great experience.”
She rose quickly in the ranks while in the Army, becoming a Major.
“I really enjoyed mentoring the soldiers,” Bell said. “I enjoyed helping to set them on the right path. I also learned a lot from them. I believe everyone can learn something from each other. Those involved in aviation, we were all part of a small community, so it was like being part of a family. I really enjoyed it.”
These days, Bell is more focused on her own little family: her husband, daughter, and two sons. She also recently returned to the classroom, enrolling in courses at College of William & Mary earlier this spring with the goal of earning an MBA.
“I’ve always wanted to go back to grad school,” she said. “I’d like to run my own business someday. I think my leadership skills from the Army would really help me. We will see what happens.”
She may have traveled the world, but Bell is thrilled to call Williamsburg home.
“To me, Williamsburg is a well-rounded community,” she said. “Young or old, there is something for everyone to do here. I also like that we are an hour from the beach and not that far from Washington DC. I also like being on the East Coast. It’s a great place to live.”
Read more profiles of local residents in WYDaily’s section In Our Hometown.