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Capt. Kimberly Hampton: Aviator's spirit soars on

By Amanda Dolasinski Staff writer, Fayetteville Observer

Fayetteville Observer
Fort Bragg, NC | May 29, 2016

Army Capt. Kimberly Hampton, 27, was killed when her Kiowa Warrior helicopter was shot down by enemy fire over Fallujah, Iraq, on Jan. 2, 2004.  She had been providing cover for the withdrawal of U.S. infantry soldiers.
Army Capt. Kimberly Hampton, 27, was killed when her Kiowa Warrior helicopter was shot down by enemy fire over Fallujah, Iraq, on Jan. 2, 2004. She had been providing cover for the withdrawal of U.S. infantry soldiers. | Photo: AP Photo/Courtesy of Hampton family

Words from an old email still linger in the Hampton household.

Capt. Kimberly Hampton, who had been deployed over the holidays, wrote home in 2002 to tell her parents that although she couldn't physically be with them, she hoped they could feel her spirit.

"I wish I could spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with you, but please know I'm always with you in spirit," Hampton wrote.

The words she left behind became more powerful as Hampton's parents tried to understand her death in a combat zone about a year later.

"That's something we hold onto," mother Ann Hampton said. "Even though she's not with us, we feel her spirit with us. She's around. It helps."

Hampton, 27, was killed when her Kiowa Warrior helicopter was shot down by enemy fire over Fallujah, Iraq, on Jan. 2, 2004. She had been providing cover for the withdrawal of U.S. infantry soldiers.

She was the commander of Delta Troop of the 1st Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, and one of two female pilots deployed with the squadron.

Hampton was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, Air Medal and Purple Heart.

"We don't have feelings just for Kimberly," father Dale Hampton said. "There are a lot of others who have also passed on and died in combat. We need to remember them all."

Hampton's interest in the military dates to her high school's JROTC program. She had started college at West Point Military Academy, but transferred to a private college in her home state of South Carolina, where she played tennis and earned a scholarship to participate in ROTC.

Hampton was commissioned as a second lieutenant from Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina. She was chosen for aviation and headed to flight school at Fort Rucker, Alabama.

Initially, her parents weren't thrilled their only daughter wanted to fly an aircraft, potentially in combat zones.

"I didn't want her flying," Ann Hampton said. "Then I thought, she won't pass the physicals and all."

But she did.

Hampton overcame scoliosis and allergies to become an aviator.

Her mother said from birth, doctors warned Hampton had severe enough foot problems that she would never run without falling. Her parents bought her corrective shoes, but supported her when she took off running at just 4 years old.

"When she was happy (that she became an aviator), how can you tell her, 'Oh, you're crazy. You shouldn't be doing that,'" Dale Hampton said. "There's no way. I was really pleased because I knew how difficult being an aviator could be and she was the top of her class. It made me very happy."

Hampton was assigned to South Korea for two years before she arrived at Fort Bragg.

During her first deployment, Hampton was sent to Afghanistan for a short time, where her parents said there were no Kiowa helicopters, so her duties included directing medical helicopter evacuations.

When Hampton returned to the United States, she focused on getting back in an aircraft. She was assigned to command the troop she led until her death.

"She was happy when she was flying," Dale Hampton said. "She would sing rock and roll when she was flying, oldies."

She was sent to Iraq for her second deployment.

Her responsibilities included flying to deter the enemy, Ann Hampton said.

"She felt completely safe in the aircraft," she said.

Her parents said communication was limited. At the time, soldiers called home from phone banks, and there was usually a long line of soldiers waiting to call.

"She told us she would rather the guys who had wives and children be able to use the phone," Ann Hampton said.

The last time the family talked was on Dec. 9, 2003 - about one month before Hampton was killed.

Dale Hampton had taken a lunch break at home, which was unusual, when the phone rang. Hampton called home to assure her parents she was safe because a helicopter had been shot down and she knew her parents would worry she was involved.

"We both got to talk to her that one last time," Dale Hampton said. "In less than a month, another one would be shot down."

That would be Hampton's helicopter, but they didn't immediately know that.

The Hamptons heard a helicopter had been shot down and waited all day for their daughter to call to assure them she was safe, just like last time.

That call never came.

Instead, about 12 hours after news of the crash spread, the Hamptons received word the military was looking for them.

Dale Hampton was outside when he saw a van pull up to his home and a chaplain approached him.

"We knew if the Army's looking for us, we knew why," he said. "I went so weak. I actually went to my knees. It was just awful. The most horrible thing. We knew what they were going to say."

The couple was devastated.

Hampton was their only child. They came to realize they would never have grandchildren.

Hampton's former fiance took a long time to grieve her death. The Hamptons have said he has since married and shares his two children with them, who call them Grandma Ann and Grandpa Dale.

"The help we've received, the people that don't even know us that maybe we meet that say they've prayed for us, it has helped," Ann Hampton said. "We don't get over it, we get through it."

Since her death, many organizations touched by Hampton have found ways to memorialize her legacy.

The South Carolina branch of the United States Tennis Association renamed its Tiger Hustle Award after Hampton. Her high school named an award for her, and her college presents a scholarship to an ROTC student in her name.

In October 2014, the Army held a ceremony to name a school in her honor. The Kimberly Hampton Primary School, on Honeycutt Road on Fort Bragg, has about 600 students in kindergarten, first and second grades.

"We felt many things that particular day," Dale Hampton said. "When we were outside and those children were singing, it was like a chorus of angels singing. It was the most uplifting thing. We've been back on more than one occasion and we still have that feeling."

Staff writer Amanda Dolasinski can be reached atdolasinskia@fayobserver.com or 486-3528.

Capt. Kimberly Hampton sits in an OH-58 Kiowa helicopter in 2001 in South Korea.
Capt. Kimberly Hampton sits in an OH-58 Kiowa helicopter in 2001 in South Korea. | Photo: AP/Hampton family photo

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