Candice Child-Illum

Former Army helicopter pilot

The hardest decision Candice ever made was leaving the Army after eight years. Her Army career started in 1978 while at BYU studying political science. She never thought she would graduate because no women in her family went to college.

While at BYU, she got involved in the Sponsor Corp club, an organization of females who served the Army ROTC program. It was then she fell in love with everything about Army ROTC.

There was only one problem: her mom didn’t agree. Candice said it was a “long, hard process” to get into the Army since her mom opposed it, though eventually, her mom came around.

In her junior military science class, her instructor said the flight aptitude test would be that weekend, one step in the competitive process of getting into flight school.

But this wouldn’t tempt Candice because she was set on being a military police officer. She didn’t even want to fly. However, her friend convinced her to take the test, and Candice passed it by one point over minimum.

In her senior year, Candice said everyone submits a “dream sheet” to rank where they want to end up. Her top choice was military police. There wasn’t really anything else she wanted to do.

Her goal was to serve for three years and then work in the State Department, utilizing her political science degree.

Candice Child-Illum poses on Nov. 15 with a photo of her as an Army helicopter pilot. Child-Illum flew an OH-58. (Lexie Flickinger)

To ensure she would be selected for military police, the remaining items on her dream sheet included things women were rarely chosen for. A few months later, she was assigned to Field Artillery Aviation, somewhere Candice knew women didn’t traditionally go.

During her time at the field artillery officer base in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Candice was one of three women in her class. While there, she was made a section leader, to “fill some slots” with women.

Her officer quarters were located above a DJ strip club on the first floor. She had to walk past those doors to get to her room each night. “For a nice, little Mormon girl from BYU, that was quite a culture shock,” she said.

While there, her visiting teachers would walk past those same doors to meet with her. “(They would) come up to me where I was, in the environment I had to live in, in order to support me,” she said.

Although Candice wasn’t selected for military police, a disappointment at the time, “it ended up being a very good thing.”

Candice said the military was and still is male-dominated. Although, more females are in the military today than when she was a member. “They have adjusted an awful lot of things to make it more palatable for women,” she said.

Candice Child-Illum displays her Army uniform. She served as a helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army for eight years. (Lexie Flickinger)

After Fort Sill, Candice went to Fort Rucker, Alabama, for flight school. She said flying was “wonderful.”

“It wasn’t what I wanted to do, but man it was probably one of the funnest things I’ve ever done in my life,” she said. “I hated giving it up.”

Listen to a clip of Candice explaining the thrills of flying.

Candice held different responsibilities throughout her military tenure including leading a platoon, fulfilling administrative duties, working as a logistics officer and being over flight operations.

Her last duty assignment was a battalion security and intel officer in Panama for a year leading up to the U.S. invasion of Panama. She even wrote the operations order for the aviation section of the invasion.

When she got to Fort Bragg, there were no female Black Hawk pilots in the 82nd Airborne Division. Instead, Candice flew an OH58, what she called “the funnest aircraft to fly.” Her favorite part was flying without the doors “so there’s nothing between you and the ground.”

Candice Child-Illum explains the details and rush of flying. (Lexie Flickinger)

She loved the thrill of flying. Her favorite part was coming up and having the bottom of her skids just barely miss the tops of the trees.

Regarding her experience as a female in the military, Candice said things were very different. Women were either “very supported” or “very sabotaged.”

“There were some pretty significant positions I got passed up for because I was female,” she said. “And I knew it was, but I couldn’t prove it, and that was extremely frustrating.”

Now, Candice said women are flying Apaches — the attack aircraft — which was “unheard of” in her military days.

Knowing what women in the military are subjected to, Candice never encouraged her two daughters to join the military. “It’s a hard place for women to be,” she said. “It’s stuff that no human being is supposed to ever be subjected to.”

“I think that women need all the opportunities to do what they want to do in the military, up to a point. I think, however, there are some things that really need to be laid at the feet of men,” she said. “That’s just how I feel about it.”

Candice said for many women, being in the military is “just fine,” and they can do things only women can do — such as connecting with the female population where they serve.

“It’s one thing to talk about equality and let everybody do what they want to do and have a leveled playing field, but the reality is men and women are different,” she said.

Candice Child-Illum displays a collection of family photos. (Lexie Flickinger)

When Candice’s sons returned from their second tours, they battled serious PTSD. However, they both received excellent mental health care at their military facilities and turned their lives around. Candice said the mental health care they received “quite literally saved their lives and their families.”

When Candice was deciding her next career, she wanted something that gave her the same satisfaction as the military. Being in the military was like being “a part of history in the making.”

Seeing her sons’ experiences with great mental health care at military facilities, Candice wanted to be involved. According to Candice, 22 veterans commit suicide each day, and she wants to help veterans recover as her sons did.

“I want a piece of that,” Candice said. “That’s where I want to be.”

It’s been 15 years since she thought about going into counseling. Now, Candice will graduate with her master’s in social work in April, and she is currently interning with Veterans Administration.