Gallagher's credentials are impressive.

She pilots a helicopter and is the commander of the Pennsylvania National Guard's 28th Combat Aviation Brigade now serving in Iraq. She is in an elite group of women who have risen to those heights.

"Being a commander is very challenging and a privilege," Gallagher, of Chambersburg, writes in an e-mail from Iraq. "It can be difficult at times. . . . The higher in rank and responsibility I go, it becomes more difficult to find other female commanders."

"I think the challenges I face in the military as a woman are the same corporate women face. One of the biggest was having to prove my abilities to my male peers, subordinates, and superiors each time I started in a new position."

She finds she has to prove herself to men in her command, accepting compliments from some and complaints from others who accuse her of "treating them like children."

And, then, she has her own children.

Gallagher and her ex-husband were stationed in Germany in the 1980s when their first child was born.

"I got off active duty to be a full-time mom - which I absolutely loved. In 1989, I decided to get into the National Guard. I could continue with my military career and still be a stay-at-home mom.

"Going to drills or flying gave me something that was all my own. After the divorce, my children stayed with our parents. . . . When they were younger, they didn't like the idea of having to go to grandma's and grandpa's house, which seemed to them to be every weekend."

Her sons agree.

"What was rough was when my parents had just gotten divorced. Me and my brother were little kids," says Gallagher's son Stuart Godlasky, 22. "It was only one weekend a month, but going a couple of days without my mom was a big deal."

There were good and bad sides to having an Army mom.

Dan Godlasky, Gallagher's 19-year-old son, remembers an episode in second grade when a friend taunted him with, " 'Your mom wears combat boots.' I was confused because my mom really did wear combat boots."

Stuart recalls how "sometimes she wouldn't fly during a weekend drill, so she would have to go up and do flights during the week. Weekday evenings or during the day we would hear a helicopter outside. It was my mom circling the house or school."

The brothers are proud of their mom, as their college careers suggest. Stuart Godlasky is an aerospace engineering student at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Dan Godlasky attends the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Gallagher has missed two big family events this year.

She watched Dan's high school graduation via a videoconference the Army arranged, and Stuart's wedding through an Internet Skype video hookup.

"It isn't the same thing as being there in person," Gallagher says.

- Carolyn Davis