by Tess Wolfe
As a teenager, Cherish McNamara attended
a Cleveland Air Show that left her
aiming for the skies. Seeing and hearing
the military aircraft fly overhead solidified
her desire to fly.
"I just knew that’s what I wanted to do,”
the Broadview Heights native recalled. "It
was like a light bulb just went off in my
head. I cannot explain the feeling.”
McNamara graduated from Brecksville Broadview
Heights High School in 1993
and joined the Air Force Reserve Officer
Training Corps at Wright State University.
With a bachelor’s degree in business
management, she served as a pilot in the
U.S. Air Force for 10 years and had earned
the rank of major when she was honorably
discharged in 2007.
Now, as senior vice commander, McNamara
is second in command at the first
and only VFW post in Australia, where
she lives with her husband, Clarke, and
their children, Liam, 7, and Cailin, 5.
"She was flying over in Iraq and Afghanistan
when she met a C130 pilot
from Australia,” said McNamara’s father,
After a long-distance relationship, the
couple married at a centuries-old castle
while both were stationed in Bath, England.
Her husband is from Perth, the
capital of Western Australia, and most of
his family lived there. The couple decided
to make Perth their home.
While in the Air Force, McNamara
was stationed in Japan and the United
Kingdom and was deployed to the Middle
East. She recalled landing and taking off
from Baghdad International Airport,
using the taxiway as the runway because
the runway was too badly damaged from
A brighter note was meeting Robin
Williams and David Letterman when
they flew in to entertain troops for United
Service Organization shows.
Among her experiences in the Air Force,
she vividly recalled Sept. 11, 2001, the
date she said "changed everything.” When
she woke up that morning, expecting to
fly an aeromedical evacuation mission,
she called the operations unit to check on
the status of the mission. Instead, she was
told to turn on her TV. With all flights in
the United States grounded, the aerovac
mission became a life-and-death situation that still needed to happen.
"We had to evacuate a military personnel
member,” McNamara said. "When
we were airborne, it was very eerie. There
were no other aircraft. No one else on
Other than essential fighter and reconnaissance
aircraft, McNamara said hers
was the only U.S. aircraft to fly that day.
While she has never flown in a similar
situation since, her team was able to save
the patient’s life.
Krutil and McNamara’s mother, Gwen
Mullen, who are divorced, both still live
in Broadview Heights, while her sister,
Renee, lives in Florida. Krutil has called
the city home for 25 years.
"She’s pretty much her own person,”
said Krutil. "Somehow she just had this
dedication that she wanted to serve her
country. I’m really proud of her for doing that."