10th Mountain aviator spends final days of Army career with buddies downrange
July 18, 2013
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- With only about two months until his retirement, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Bob Cuyler did not have to deploy with the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade in May, but he told the brigade commander that he wanted to spend his last two months in the Army with his fellow aviators downrange.
Fellow aviators, staff members and Soldiers celebrated Cuyler's career and thanked him for his numerous contributions to the unit and Army aviation during a ceremony here June 28. Cuyler's Family was able to watch the event via video teleconference from Fort Drum.
During the nearly two months he spent in Afghanistan, Cuyler, a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter instructor pilot, shared his expertise, experience and passion for aviation as an adviser with the fledgling 337th Afghan Air Force Squadron in Kabul, part of the 10th CAB's partnership in building the squadron's air-assault planning capabilities.
"I believe our most significant mission is getting the Afghan Air Force up and running," Cuyler said. "On the individual level, the Afghan pilots are just as good as us; some of them better."
Cuyler began his career in 1983 with the New York Air National Guard, working in civil engineering for eight years. After an additional year as a civil engineer in the New York Army National Guard, he went active duty Army in 1992 and attended the Warrant Officer Flight Training Program.
"I wanted to be a technical expert in a particular job, and it was appealing to be able to stay in that job until I retire," Cuyler said.
Now, after 21 years, he has decided to step away from the Army and begin a new chapter in his and his wife's lives.
"I have mixed emotions," he said. "I hate leaving the job because I enjoy doing it every day. This is the next chapter in our (lives), and I promised my wife that Family will come first in this chapter rather than the needs of the Army."
Cuyler said he plans to continue flying "in some form or fashion," but he and his wife's ultimate goal is to transition to a Family-run business.
Col. David Francis, 10th CAB commander, had met Cuyler on two previous deployments. Francis said he was excited to come to the brigade and find Cuyler still with the unit. Francis pointed out that he was Cuyler's sixth brigade commander during his 12 years with the unit.
With Cuyler's departure from Afghanistan approaching, and although there will be a retirement ceremony at Fort Drum, the commander and Cuyler's colleages did not want him to leave without a ceremony in his honor.
"I get to be here with the honor of talking about him as he gets set to retire," Francis said. "I did not want to miss the chance to explain to his Family the importance of what he has done for this brigade. He has been a mentor and a teacher. He has mentored me, and he has mentored general officers on the impact on future aviation. This is his fifth combat tour. The experience he brings very few people are able to match."
Cuyler has been a trailblazer as the first Army aviator to return to duty after having his entire colon removed in 2007. Typically, such a procedure results in a discharge from the Army, but after months of physical therapy, a medical board cleared him to return to duty.
To raise awareness for others who have gone through similar procedures, Cuyler ran 39 half marathons during his 2010-11 deployment to Afghanistan. Through his advocacy, other Soldiers with similar circumstances have been able to continue their careers.
As Cuyler addressed his colleagues one last time, the mentor in him was evident as he reminded his listeners that they are conducting operations during the summer fighting season, and the rising heat will compel aviators and leaders to make wise planning decisions.
"What is most important is bringing everyone home," he cautioned. "That calls for safe, efficient mission accomplishment."
At the conclusion of his ceremony, Cuyler looked at the flat screen across the conference room on which his wife, daughter, mother and father-in-law looked on; his son, who is currently conducting Air Force training, was linked into the ceremony from a laptop just in front of him.
"It's time to focus on my Family," he said. "I've missed about seven years of my children's lives. What you have sacrificed means a lot to me."
And to his wife, "The goal for the rest of my life is to thank you for all you have done."