Alexis Salvanera: Flying High

Welcome to our fourth annual Women to Watch issue. We’re so excited about this year’s group of young ladies! From making a name in the creative writing world to racking up wins in pageants, gymnastics, and more, from running charities and earning scholarships to glowing with simple, everyday kindness, these gals are truly doing the incredible things we love to feature. We even have one of the few female Chinook pilots in the world! Let’s start off with our four cover girls. You’re going to be fascinated by their stories – and floored by their terrific advice!

“Don’t let other people define you. If you want to work in a male-dominated field, do it. Don’t go in to work every day thinking you’re different because you’re a girl. Just get the job done.”  Alexis Salvanera

At 24, a lot of us still have our heads in the clouds. Alexis Salvanera does too but, in her case, it means something quite different. Just back from a deployment in the Middle East, Alexis spent the last year flying one of the U.S. military’s most impressive aircraft: the CH-47 Chinook helicopter.

Born in Florida and transplanted with her family to Georgia at age five, Alexis spent most of her career being homeschooled. She started in gymnastics at age two and was a level nine gymnast by the time she graduated high school. She was also heavily involved in 4-H and with the American Legion posts. Freshman year, she discovered the American Legion’s Oratorical Contest, which challenges participants to write and deliver 10- to 12-minute speeches on the constitution – without the aid of notecards.

“It seemed like an interesting challenge, and I decided to try it,” she says. “It was daunting at first, but I loved it. Came in second my very first year and that’s how I discovered my love of public speaking.”

In her junior year, she completed the National Leadership Challenge and decided she wanted to join the military after college. So, after earning a political science degree at North Georgia College (now University of North Georgia), she signed up for the National Guard.

“My dad’s side of the family was military,” she says, “but they were all Navy and Marine Corps. I thought it was time to bring in a new branch!”

Her choice of school also influenced her decision. North Georgia runs a program specific to the Georgia National Guard, in which students receive a full ride, train during their four years of college, and then spend four years in the Guard after graduation. Alexis realized it was the program for her and she jumped right in. But once she’d settled on a branch, the rest of the path took a bit more figuring out.

She did like flying, however, and decided that might be the best choice for her. A year after graduation, she was serving stateside and waiting to start flight school when she got her second-ever ride in a Chinook and was hooked. She was also attracted by the tight-knit community of Chinook pilots.

Once flight school finished, she headed overseas. As platoon leader, she was responsible for a platoon of 51 soldiers, most of them doing the complicated, highly specialized behind-the-scenes work of repairing and maintaining the copters.

“The Chinook is just an incredible machine,” she says. “It takes a lot of knowledge to work on them. They’re the biggest, fastest helicopter the military has and we use them for everything from moving cargo and food and mail to soldiers stationed far from base to picking up troops. The Chinook carries more fuel than other helicopters so it can fly higher, longer, and further. I just love these things.”

She also really enjoys the military and intends to go career Army after finishing her last year in the Guard.

“I love the structure of military life,” she says. “And I love that you can travel to and live so many places. Yes, 90 percent of the time I’m the only woman in the room, but I just ignore that. I do my job and focus on what I can do, not on what people might think I can’t do. I happen to love working out, and I can do all the physical stuff the guys can do. I just get it done and then nobody cares that their hair is buzzed off and mine’s in a bun.”

Maggie Coughlin

Maggie is an author, speaker, trainer, strategist, freelance writer, blogger and life coach. She's also a reader, life learner, hair flower obsessionist, dog schmuck, DIY enthusiast, Mensan, and dreamer. Maggie lives in Newnan with her sweet rescue pup, Jazzy.