According to the United Nations (U.N.), Salvadoran Air Force (FAS, in Spanish) Major Sandra Hernández and Major Evelyn Salas were the first female combat pilots to join the helicopter fleet of Joint Task Force Torogoz during the U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA, in French).
Maj. Hernández, who graduated in 2000 as part of the first class of women in the FAS, was the first female combat pilot to join MINUSMA Torogoz V, in 2019, and Torogoz III in 2017.
According to the U.N., she distinguished herself for security surveillance during the terrorist attacks in Mali, in 2019. “We used our aircraft to reduce the attacks and bring peace of mind to Mali’s inhabitants,” Maj. Hernández said.
In February 2021, the Salvadoran Ministry of Defense awarded her the U.N. MINUSMA Medal in Mali for her outstanding performance. In addition, Maj. Hernández led the helicopter unit in the Salvadoran humanitarian assistance operation in November 2020, to help the victims of Hurricane Eta in Guatemala, leading food delivery efforts in areas that were cut off by landslides. In January 2021, the Guatemalan Ministry of Defense awarded her the White Nun Medal (Medalla Monja Blanca) for her performance.
As part of the second generation of women who joined the FAES in 2001, Maj. Salas was the second combat pilot to become part of the Salvadoran air squad in Torogoz IV, in MINUSMA, in May 2018, the U.N. said.
“I had the opportunity to carry out operational missions outside the camp. I was the only female officer who was completing flight missions and adapting to all the conditions that arose at any time,” Maj. Salas said.
The FAES has awarded her several decorations, including the Star of Merit (Estrella al Mérito) for best performance in the FAES in 2014 and the Protector Coeli Medal (Medalla Protector Coeli), in the Knight Grade (Grado de Caballero), for her contribution to strengthening the FAS in 2011.
“Undoubtedly, the participation of men and women improves operational performance, and there is better decision-making,” Maj. Salas said. “When [men and women] work in these types of missions, it spurs a high level of acceptance and trust among the population, something I was able to confirm in Mali,” Maj. Hernández added.
Both pilots trained at the Salvadoran Peace Operations Training Center, an institution that has received support from U.S. Southern Command since 2011, with equipment donations, personnel training, and infrastructure building and refurbishing, Chargé d’Affaires ad Interim Jean Manes at the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador said on Twitter.