Vietnam veterans team up for Veteran's Day mission
By Spc. Leah R. Burton
28th Public Affairs Detachment
LOGISTICS SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, Balad, Iraq — In honor of Veteran's Day, a crew of nine Vietnam veterans took to the skies for a routine mission as a show of camaraderie, skill and for old time's sake.
The Vietnam War was the first time the Army used helicopters in combat; prior to Vietnam, helicopters were only used for medical transport and evacuation. The pilots were the pioneers of modern Army aviation doctrine, learning and inventing tactics based on first-hand experience of what works and what does not.
"We thought, in honor of Veteran's Day, that we would get as many Vietnam veterans together as we could to fly a mission together," said Chief Warrant Officer John Wyatt, who was a platoon leader in an air cavalry troop in Vietnam.
"In Vietnam, generally, you got shot at every day. Every week or two, you got a bullet hole in the aircraft. You lost comrades monthly, if not weekly. It's a little bit different than that here," Wyatt said.
The average age of a Vietnam-era helicopter pilot was early 20s. They generally went from high school to flight school to Vietnam. In contrast, the average age of Task Force 185th helicopter pilots is 34.
The younger pilots in TF 185th look to the Vietnam veterans for advice when they find themselves in unfamiliar situations.
"They've given us great advice. They (Vietnam veterans) are the most experienced aviators in the Army today. We're leaning on their experience, and it's paid off here in Iraq," said Col. Bradly MacNealy, TF 185th commander.
All but one of the crewmembers were helicopter pilots or crew chiefs in Vietnam. The lone young Soldier, Sgt. Jose Perez, is the grandson of a Vietnam veteran. His grandfather gave him a coin from his service in Vietnam, which Perez carried with him as a token of good luck on the mission.
Although Vietnam left a bitter taste in his mouth, the music of helicopter propellers called Wyatt back.
"When I got out of the Army, I was really upset about Vietnam, but I couldn't stay away from flying. I lived in the state of Ohio at the time and helicopters were always flying over my house, so I went down and looked for [the aviation unit]," Wyatt said.
He told his wife he was going to see about the helicopters. That same day, he called her and said he'd be home the next evening. When she asked why, he said, "Because I just joined the National Guard, and it's drill weekend. That was in '74."
Wyatt is still serving his country to do his part to keep it safe.
"I have granddaughters," Wyatt said. "If I can do something now, so that they don't have to worry about an airplane flying into a building when they grow up, that's worth it for me."
Chief Warrant Officer Michael Chapman thought his flying career was over when he returned home from Vietnam. His sense of dedication and service to his country called him back.
Chapman's patriotism has rubbed off on his family members. His wife served in Vietnam as a courier, and his son is in Special Forces and served in the Gulf War.
Their dedication and commitment to service is beneficial not only to their unit, but the Army at large, because they bring experience and wisdom to every mission.
"Task Force 185th Aviation would like to dedicate our success here in Iraq to the Vietnam helicopter pilots that developed the basics of our modern day Army aviation doctrine," MacNealy said. "Thanks to our predecessors, we have the most modern high tech aircraft. We have tried and true tactics, techniques and procedures, and we have the proven skills to accomplish our mission."
The crew, Chief Warrant Officers John Wyatt Jr., John Lanning, Mike Chapman, Richard Erickson, Don Berres, Ben Roche, 1st Sgt. Jim Wellmon, Staff Sgt. Bona Dyal, Command Sgt. Maj. Wayne Eden and Sgt. Jose Perez, has a total of more than 56,000 flight hours and more than 300 years of service to their country.
(LOGISTICS SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, Balad, Iraq) - Chief Warrant Officer Richard Erickson, Task Force 185th Aviation, writes the call signs on the windshield of the UH-60 Blackhawk, prior to departing for Fallujah with a crew of Vietnam veterans in honor of Veteran's Day Nov. 11. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Leah R. Burton)
(LOGISTICS SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, Balad, Iraq) - Task Force 185th Aviation Soldiers Sgt. Jose Perez, Chief Warrant Officers Ben Roche, Don Berres, Richard Erickson, and Command Sgt. Maj. Wayne Eden stand together for a picture on the airfield here prior to flying their special Veteran's Day flight together. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Leah R. Burton)