Flying Chinooks a Family affair
November 7, 2013
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (November 7, 2013) -- Power, versatility, speed, efficiency, the sound of double blades beating the air into submission -- these are the things that attracted three infantrymen to the workhorse of Army Aviation, the CH-47 Chinook.
But another aspect of being a helicopter pilot also drew them in -- Family immersion.
WO1 Ryan Thurgood, B Company, 2nd Aviation Regiment, 149th General Support Aviation Battalion from Grand Prairie, Texas, is the newest Aviator to be added to this Family of Soldiers, which includes his father, retired Maj. Gen. Keith Thurgood; his uncle, Brig. Gen. Neil Thurgood, Program Executive Officer, Missiles and Space, Redstone Arsenal; and his grandfather, retired Lt. Col. Leon Thurgood -- who spent 32 years in the Army.
Though Ryan is the third generation of his Family to go into the service, there is something more unique about his new career choice -- he followed in the footsteps of his uncle and grandfather by first becoming an infantryman then becoming a CH-47 Chinook pilot.
"I always had a desire to serve in some capacity. That probably came from growing up in my father's boots and hearing all the stories from everyone. But when I enlisted I knew I would eventually be an Aviator because I knew that is where my passion really fell," he said.
The Family torch didn't have to be carried on though, flight school is long, hard and rigorous, especially on a young Soldier with a young Family who already had a successful career, but Ryan "just knew" when he was 18 that he had to fly Chinooks when the time was right.
"Chinooks are the fastest . . . it carries the most weight, it can go the highest," he said. "It is just so powerful. I can pick up several helicopters with my helicopter. It is the sexiest, too. They even used to carry guns on them. There is nothing better than being on the ground and hearing a Chinook come in. They have a real deep thud, and it is really inspiring to see one come in close."
Leon began the tradition in the 1950s when, tired of walking, he decided to turn in his truck and ruck for something a little more aerial. He went infantry, The Queen of Battle, and was then commissioned as an officer in 1963. That's when his dusty boots began leaving the ground and his legacy was born.
Adventure begun, he flew Chinooks in Vietnam, he saw Aviation become a branch and he witnessed a child, then a grandchild, follow in his flight path.
Neil was the first in line to catch the sweet aroma of helicopter exhaust. Faster than a pilot can say 'startup procedure checklist,' Neil enlisted as an infantryman to form a Soldier foundation for his career, believing that good pilots are made from those who have served on the ground first.
"My father always said that the heart of our Army is the ground force, but I realized as a young private that I wanted to fly because I saw how effective of a piece it was for the Army," he continued. "I think being enlisted is important for our officer corps."
Once becoming a Chinook pilot, though, flying in the same unit, the 213th Black Cats, as his father with the same tail numbers exactly 20 years later just added wind to the rotor blades.
Following the legacy that his grandfather unintentionally bred is something that Ryan said just came naturally to him. Knowing he would become a better Aviator, officer and leader, he began his adventure in the enlisted ranks first, like his uncle and grandfather before him.
Once his mind was made up and the time was right, Ryan tightened his bootstraps and kissed the ground goodbye when he put in his packet to become a Chinook pilot.
"Now, as a pilot, I can better understand those ground commanders and know what they are possibly thinking," he said. "I know I can better support those guys because I was one of those guys. And flying a helicopter is one of the best ways you can support your fellow Soldiers, especially in a CH-47."
The Thurgood's attraction for the Chinook does not only emanate from Leon, it comes from the love of Aviation and the CH-47 itself. And now Aviation is held in the same regard as another Family member.
The seduction began with the aircraft's ability to attack, supply, assault and provide medical assistance. The large chance that they would be exposed to different events and pieces of the Army that other helicopter airframe pilots do not get to experience was irresistible as well.
"You see our three generations because we were all held up to different expectations growing up. That generational thing is tied to the culture of Army Aviation, and built around our Family and joined to the Army," said Neil.
The wind beneath the Thurgood's blades might not end with Ryan.
"My oldest son is pretty much fully indoctrinated into Aviation," said Ryan. "He can already tell what airframe is what, and he likes wearing my gear around the house. I don't think it is a phase. He can even spit out helicopter facts, but he likes the Apaches and he is more than welcome to make up his own mind."