Air Cav pilot reaches pinnacle of career as son begins his
February 16, 2010
CAMP TAJI-A 1st Air Cavalry Brigade pilot pinned on the highest rank within the warrant officer corps while his son, a recent graduate from flight school, watched from more than 5,000 miles away.
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Cliff Mead, of Copperas Cove, Texas, battalion maintenance officer and UH-60 Black Hawk pilot for 2nd Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, U.S. Division-Center, recently joined the ranks of a few who wear chief warrant officer 5 on their chest.
A small choice more than 25 years ago led him to this point: a decision to quit his job.
Cliff was 18 years old at the time, newly married to his high school sweetheart, had a baby on the way, and had very little options in the way of employment.
"My dad is retired infantry. Never once did he steer me towards the Army one way or another growing up," Cliff said. "It wasn't until I quit the job I had that he said, 'Well, you might want to talk to an Army recruiter then.'"
Cliff enlisted in the Army but after five years as a unit supply specialist, he decided he wanted to fly, so he applied for warrant officer school and flight school.
Cliff deployed first to northern Iraq for Operation Provide Comfort, helping the Kurdish refugees with humanitarian aid in 1991. He then deployed twice to Bosnia, followed by three more deployments, including his current one to Iraq.
All along the way, his family has remained by his side, supporting him, and now emulating him.
His son, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Chris Mead, just began his career as an OH-58 Kiowa pilot: a point of pride for the master aviator.
"I'm really proud of the man he's become because that is his own accomplishment," said Cliff. "What I also see out of that, though, is that he has to truly respect everything that I've done in order to want to [become a pilot]. So it makes me believe I got it right."
As a child, Chris always knew that he wanted to be a Soldier and a pilot.
"I couldn't think of any job that has more purpose than being a Soldier in the United States Army," he said.
Chris grew up knowing that his father had a job unlike most others, but along with the bragging rights in grade school came the discipline of a type-A pilot, he said.
"The expectation in the house growing up was, set high and you were expected to meet his standard whether it be grades, behavior or good manners," said Chris.
Those same rules and principles he was taught have carried over into his adult life.
Chris now carries the weight of other Soldiers' lives' in his hands, whether he is protecting ground troopers or his co-pilot in the seat next to him. The job demands discipline and respect of the inherent dangers, he said.
He credits his father's type-A personality for the reality that he's following in his footsteps; something he is very proud to admit.
"I have always been proud of my dad and in what he does," said Chris. "However, this pride has continued to grow as I grow as an aviator, and I'm sure that after my first deployment that I will have an even better sense of pride for what my dad has accomplished."
He demonstrated his pride the day his father earned his promotion to chief warrant officer 5 by watching dad and having his wife and two children from Fort Wainwright, Alaska, also watch via video teleconference.
Chris said he was glad to be able to see his father take what will probably be his last major stepping stone in his career before eventual retirement.
"It's great to know that while being on opposite sides of the Earth we can still take part in the same event," Chris said. "It is important for Soldiers to keep family ties strong and this event helped keep those ties strong."
Chris said he plans to capitalize on that technology from time to time for aviator advice.
"It's great to have a mentor and a role model who can give the complete and honest truth," Chris said. "I also know that I will get a straight answer no matter what the outcome is. There is no sugar coating."
Although his job usually keeps him in the air, Cliff said he keeps himself grounded with the knowledge that his family is as much a part of his career as he is.
His wife, Kandace, who also watched his promotion from Fort Hood, Texas, never once questioned his decision to stay in the Army all these years. It wasn't even until his 17-year career mark that the family had a talk about him staying in for at least 20 years.
Cliff and his wife have always felt that he should stay in as long as he's enjoying what he's doing; a fact that hasn't changed the entire 25 years they've been married. He doesn't foresee himself retiring anytime soon, and actually looks forward to his son continuing his legacy as a U.S. Army pilot.
"As far as my career up to this day," said Cliff - "I wouldn't trade it for the world."