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Employee Spotlight: Veteran Helicopter Pilot Sarah Piro Gives Back to Fighting Forces

Sarah Piro says she draws back on her life in the military for her work at BAE Systems
“I love the fact that our products make a difference.”

As a young girl growing up in El Dorado Hills, Calif., Sarah Piro was intrigued by both of her grandfathers who served their country during World War II; and with her dad and uncle in the U.S. Army Reserves, she knew the military was her destiny – except she wanted to fly helicopters in a field where most aviators are men. Piro knew she would face a challenging road ahead, but she remained determined and focused.

“It was something I wanted to do, and I was going to do it,” said Piro, who ended up facing her challenge and more, as she went on to become a West Point graduate and an eight-year U.S. Army veteran who flew combat missions in Iraq during two separate deployments.

As a pilot who faced the enemy head-on during war, Piro understands firsthand the importance of tactical helicopter technology. Now a program manager at BAE Systems in Greenlawn, New York, she is making sure that today’s fighting forces are getting the identification capability they need via the company’s identification friend or foe (IFF) technology.

The common transponder program that Piro manages provides equipment that protects the same people she once fought beside. The products enable fighting forces to recognize friendly aircraft, surface vessels, and submarines to avoid inadvertent fire on “the good guys.” These common transponders perform an uncommon role in giving pilots vital advanced situational awareness to operate safely and execute their mission in a highly cluttered environment.

Sarah Piro says she draws back on her life in the military for her work at BAE Systems
Sarah Piro says she draws back on her life in the military for her work at BAE Systems
Sarah Piro says she draws back on her life in the military for her work at BAE Systems.

“The mantra ‘We Protect Those Who Protect Us®’ resonates with me,” said Piro who has been with BAE Systems for four years. “I love the fact that our products make a difference.”

Piro herself made a difference during her time in the service. When asked to recall an event that stands out to her, the former Army captain described a particularly difficult day during conflict in 2006 when she was in Tall Afar, Iraq, an area heavy with insurgents.

“There was a mission one morning where the ground guys were going into a specific area where they were trying to find weapons cache. So the guys hit the ground, and then it all turned bad very quickly.”

Soldiers were shot, and Piro’s OH-58D Kiowa helicopter was called in for extra support. In the midst of the fight, her aircraft was hit, but she managed to get back to the airfield, jump into a second aircraft, and return to the mission within 20 minutes.

These days, her missions are split between work and home. At work, she focuses on successfully managing one of BAE Systems’ IFF programs. At home in Long Island, her priority is being a wife and mom. But there’s no doubt that her career in the Army shaped who she is and how she approaches today’s work responsibilities — helping those on the battlefield.

“I draw back on my life in the military to make sure that whatever we do here at BAE Systems is focused on giving the end user the best product they can have,” Piro said, “because it might come down to being the difference between life and death.”