To all who served in the U.S. armed services, THANK YOU!
The above picture is of myself and three of my best buddies swearing into the Army, with my father officiating the ceremony in December of 1986. One week out of High School and we were off to Boot Camp. The following pic was taken on graduation night from Ft. McClellan, Alabama, featuring my friends Jeff Parrot and Mike Brault:
Shortly after this picture was taken we shipped out to Ft. Eustis, Virginia for our Advanced Individual Training course, which for the three of us was 67V, helicopter maintenance school.
We had some really tough but amazing drill sergeants for all of it. What a truly needed thing Boot Camp was for me. It radically changed my life for the better. I was often a very depressed teenager, totally lacking in self-confidence, always putting myself down. In Basic Training and the subsequent schooling, which followed, it was the Drill Sergeants who whipped my sorry butt and my mind into shape. They gave me the tools to succeed in life. Failure was not an option.They taught me to “be all I can be” and to NEVER give up. I will be forever grateful for what they did for me.
The drill sergeants we had for both Boot Camp and A.I.T. were some seriously mean and scary dudes, but deep down, we knew they genuinely cared for us. They were tough because they needed to be. They are the ones who prepare the soldier for war. They are the ones who would scare you to death, while simultaneously giving you the strength and the courage to take that next step when you didn’t think you could. They were the ones who taught us discipline and honor. They could take over 300 kids from every walk of life, and no matter where you came from, what you’ve been through, what you knew or didn’t know… they turned us all into lean, mean, 100% unified, fighting machines known as soldiers – but perhaps more importantly, into a “band of brothers.” I would have willingly laid my life down for any of the guys I served with and I knew they would have done the same for me if need be. That’s true friendship brotherhood right there!
I don’t believe in the draft and am thankful for a volunteer military. But I am of the firm opinion that every kid needs to go through at least 8 weeks of Boot Camp immediately out of High School. Because I believe everyone would tremendously benefit from such an experience, both on a personal level and on a national level. Then at the end of it, if they decided they liked that way of life they could either sign up for a tour of duty to serve in the various branches of the military or get out and take on the civilian life with more strength, courage, honor and discipline than they ever would have if they had not gone through such an experience.
My buddies and I served for 6 – 8 years together, then myself and Jeff got out. Mike stayed in for some time longer and eventually deployed to Bosnia. But I served entirely in peacetime and thankfully never had to see combat. My time in the Army was as a kid, basically getting paid to have a lot of fun. Sadly, that’s not the case for most vets. The things they have seen and experienced cannot be understood by anyone except those who have seen and experienced the same things themselves. I don’t deserve any thanks. I didn’t do anything worthy of it. But many others did and they do deserve our thanks and tremendous appreciation. Today is the day to thank them.
I want to take this time to thank and honor my dad. I have always looked up to, admired and loved him. The picture on the left is of my dad when he was 27 years old. Shortly after serving his time in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot, he came back and had me. He stayed in the military, continuing to fly helicopters for a total of 35 years.
Recently, a friend on Facebook stumbled across a poem and an article my dad had written for The Bullwhip Squadron News, wherein he summarizes his time in the Army and recounts his last helicopter flight. I’d like to share it here:
Reflections on Brotherhood
Refuelers are not the least of our lot.
When choppers approach, to their tankers they trot.
They fill our old birds with Uncle Sam’s gas,
While pilots and others just sit on the grass.
Their actions are worthy, their tribute is high,
For without their fine effort, we’re not able to fly!
Crew chiefs are special, to us up in front,
They climb up all over with nary a grunt.
They clean and they fix, so we can go fly,
And answer dumb questions with a slightly raised eye.
Their work is superb, many things that they do,
For if THEIR butt gets there, so will mine too!
Skinned knuckles and curses mark the maintenance man,
Wipe rag, tool box, and the slimy drip pan.
And sergeants all swearing, O-R rate to compete,
Day and night working, repairs to complete.
They work without ceasing, all pushing and strife,
But on their great skill, I depend for my life.
The medics are special because of their skill,
But in their strong minds, they refuse to kill.
“That’s not what we do, in the heat of the war,
We bind up the wounds, not add to the score.”
So I’ll get you there through my skill in flying,
For only you can give comfort to the wounded and dying.
Our captains stand tall in the midst of the fight,
Fearing their failures as humans they might.
Obedience you get, because of your rank,
But respect must be earned, its not “in the bank”.
But we’re right beside you, in all of the game,
“Cause commissioned or warrant, in the air we’re the
The commander stands alone, his shoulders must bear,
All responsibility is his, he cannot share.
He takes and he gives each in its turn,
Especially when our actions cause his bosses to burn.
Let your mind be at ease, sir, erase your dark frown,
You are our leader, and we won’t let you down.
Gunnies are a strange bunch, aggressive and rough,
There when you need them, don’t shirk, they are tough.
Diving and firing, killing the foe,
Guns all a-blazing, rockets a-glow.
For there’s nothing a slick pilot does more desire,
Than the welcome sight of good suppressive fire.
Scouts are just crazy, in my estimation,
Weaving and ducking in the dark vegetation.
They’re deliberately looking for the bad guy,
To draw his fire they believe they can’t die.
And when they get hit, the air is alive,
With their shouts for salvation, but why such surprise?
Hookers are something in my contemplation,
Flying two rotors in such close formation.
A BIG target there, lots of stuff hanging,
From hooks and slings, twisting and banging.
But they’re critical for success in any campaign,
They bring EVERYTHING in from TP to champagne.
And last but not least to my brothers in skill,
Indulge me once more a brief doggerel.
We’ve all seen the fear some time in our lives,
Of enemy bullets or some trial in the skies.
Our skills are well proven, we’ve been put to the test,
And we’ll fly good together till God gives us rest.
As we all approach the twilight of life,
We look back carefully at the years of our strife.
Guts churning, bowels yearning, we never did run,
Scared men, truly, but cowards, nay, none.
Our lives have been lived by a privileged few,
Brothers remember, we were brave and we FLEW!
The full story …
It was 0730, the phone rang. It was Ted, the CW5 State Standards Pilot. “We’ve got to push up your last flight to about an hour from now. Got to use the aircraft later. Any problem?” “Nope,” I answered, “see you in an hour.” Oh, well, had plans for the morning, expecting the flight this afternoon. No problem, get the flight suit on. Hmm, seems to have shrunk over the years. Haven’t done this in nearly two years, I wonder if I can still hover the thing. Well, I’ll find out soon.
Out to the flight facility. Sun is hot already, but not too hot. Sky looks a little wispy like maybe the humidity will bring on some thunderstorms later today. Good to get this done now. A little preparation then out to pre-flight. Climb all over the Huey, feels good, even the greasy head and control tubes. Check the battery / radio compartment, skids, engine, tail rotor. Floods of memories wash over me. Remembering the post-flights to check for bullet holes, half a lifetime ago. Same aircraft, same components, updated, but they don’t look any different than 30 years ago. Time to strap in; into the seat, armored but without the sliding side panel. Adjust the pedals, fit the restraint system, check the inertia reel. Been doing this now 30 plus years. Hands seem to move by themselves, accurately following the checklist without seeming conscious action. Getting hot, sun coming in the greenhouse panel.
Get the check list, hand flits over the pedestal, the overhead, the instrument panel. Same switches, same positions, everything the same over and over for years. The only difference is now this check list is the fifth different sequence we’ve had to learn to put the same switches in the same position to start the Huey. Remember asking a DES evaluator once, why the change. “It’s a more efficient way to do it,” he replied. “Our GS-105 anthro-psychologist developed it.” “Was he a pilot?” I asked. “No, she was not.” Interesting reply, but the switches somehow get efficiently put in the same pre-start positions that I once memorized for blindfold cockpit checks long ago. Dash doesn’t look any different, really. Some new stuff, some new fangled gages, but mostly the same.
Electric hats on, FUEL-on, KEY-on, START/GEN in START position, THROTTLE-set, TRIGGER-pull. The familiar whine of the turbine penetrates the HGU-59P (almost brand new) helmet with the form fitting ear cups, TP liner to conform to the head for maximum comfort. (Looks a little like the Empire Strikes Back drivers of the “walker” weapon.) Even the chin strap didn’t chafe. Winding up, trigger released at 40%, on the detent, N1 stable at 69%. Good start, cool, no problems. Electrics on, radios squawk to life and everything settles down to a memorable flight idle rocking.
Radio calls complete, pre-take off checks complete, off to Pad 5 for HIT check. OK, moment of truth, bringing the old girl up to a hover. Remember the Huey rides a little nose high and left skid low. Increase the collective, left pedal, cyclic seems to be moving on its own. I don’t have any real sense of conscious control. My hands and feet are on automatic, the automatic of 4,000 plus hours, three quarters of which in this aircraft. Up, up she rises, gently, evenly about three degrees nose up. Just “sitting” on the heels of the skids. Hold there for a moment, savoring it. Continue a miniscule increase in collective and she breaks ground, left skid low and up to three feet. Damn, that felt good, not a wiggle, not a burble. The flight could have ended right there – hell, I can still HOVER!!
Take off clearance, forward cyclic and a little power to maintain altitude, The Huey moves forward slowly, gaining speed. There it is, slight nose pitch up as we pass through translational lift, a touch forward cyclic keeps everything OK. Airspeed at 40 kts, increase to 5 psi above hover and up we go gaining airspeed and altitude, smoothly accelerating to climb airspeed and a stable 500 fpm rate of climb. Love this! Level off at 1500 MSL.
The rest of the ride was neat, reacquainting myself with aerial landmarks I hadn’t seen for a while. Out to the tactical area, back to the homestead, look at the house from the air. But back to the airfield, an hour passes so fast. Well, enter into right traffic for Runway 23. “What are you gonna do?” prompts the IP. “Normal approach to the ground,” I reply. “Going for the hard one right off,” he chides. Base leg down to 700 MSL and 70 Kts, turn final, pick up the sight picture and begin the approach. Got the runway numbers nailed to the windscreen all the way down; flare, decelerate, add a little power and she stops … 6 inches above the runway. Damn tri-focal glasses!!! Another take off and another landing and this time, a little hot at the bottom but right to the ground. Heh, heh!
Next one is a shallow approach to a running landing. Good position on final, nice shallow approach. Airspeed is good; cross the threshold at one foot and 40 kts, decel slightly and touch down, nice and easy and straight. Good, feels good, the touch is still there. Well, time to go back to the ramp. Air taxi down the two mile runway to the ramp, turn off ,what is the fire truck doing there? Lots of people around, and a FIRE truck!! Expecting a crash?? Touch down, flight idle for 2 minutes they’re unrolling the hose hmm wonder if it is a drill. Oh well, finish the shut down. Unstrap, get out. Look, there’s my wife and my son with cameras. That’s nice, hope they got a good picture. What’s with the hose?
WHAM!! The water hits with some force, darn near knocks off my glasses. But it IS cool on a hot day. Can’t see anyone anymore, they’ve got it on the fog setting. Nomex flight suit soaks up water like a sponge and I’m soaked down to my skivvies. Helmet is filling with water, the ALSE tech is going to be pissed!! But that’s the tradition for “last flights.” Funny, my mind flits back to that cold January day over 35 years ago when my first solo was celebrated in a cattle pond somewhere in north Texas. Baptized in the beginning and sprinkled at the end. Then it’s over . Thirty-five years of helicopter flight have come to their logical conclusion. But its been thirty five good years, no major accidents or incidents, no broken bones, no holes in me during peace or war. Can’t say that for Old #281 way back when. A part of my life has now concluded and it’s time to move on. Wife is smiling, son is proud, friends are beaming, shaking hand all around, life is good.
– CW5(R) Bob Skiba, Army Helicopter Pilot
I remember that day well dad. So happy for you and that you made it through all those years, all those experiences, with “no major accidents or incidents, no broken bones, no holes in you during peace or war.” May you live out the rest of your life in as much peace, safety and contentment. Thank you so much for serving your country with dignity and honor and for being the best dad any kid could ever hope for or imagine. Know that you are deeply loved and appreciated.
Shortly after reading the above article, I stumbled across some “home video” style footage shot by others in Vietnam. My dad served in 1967 – 68. The man who produced the following video also served in that same time period… and he had the same unit patch on his sleeve as my dad’s. So I sent this video off to him this morning. Still waiting to hear back from my dad as to whether or not he knew this particular pilot and/or any of the people depicted in this video. How cool would that be? In the meantime, I present the following videos to any other vets out there and to those who wish to have a little glimpse into the lives of soldiers who served in a thankless war:
Vietnam through the eyes of a pilot:
Vietnam through the eyes of a “grunt”:
Shortly after watching the above I came to learn about an organization called The Greatest Generations Foundation. I don’t know much about them other than what I saw in the following videos, but from what I could see… wow! What a valuable service they provide to our vets:
Whether they served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq or any other theater of combat or in peacetime, please take the time to pray for and thank a vet today. You have no idea how much they need it and will appreciate it.
TRIBUTE TO THE 1/110th AIR CAV (by Terry Knight)
The following video was a tribute video my friend, the late Warrant Officer Terry Knight had made of the fun times we had with so many other awesome guys in the 1/110th Air Cav, put to the music of Bon Jovi’s song, “Wanted Dead or Alive”. Thanks Terry! I miss you bro. Rest in peace my friend.
– Rob Skiba