Learning The Inside Story Of Army Operations
August 10, 2011
By Kari Hawkins
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.--Opportunities come in all shapes and sizes.
For Capt. Matthew Woolsey, the Aviation and Missile Command is one of several opportunities that continue to lead this young officer along the road of a fulfilling military career.
With eight years of military experience on the tactical side of the Army, Woolsey’s position as the aide de camp to AMCOM commander and Arsenal senior commander Maj. Gen. Jim Rogers is providing him with a background in logistics, acquisition, technology development, system management and other business aspects of a military organization charged with providing Soldiers with the best aviation and missile systems in the world.
That road of opportunity began for Woolsey in 1999 when he entered the University of Mississippi and decided that taking a few ROTC classes would be a good way to gain some easy credit hours.
But along the way, he also gained a career.
“I was convinced to take military science classes because along with instruction they included paint ball and camping, and I could get some As,” Woolsey said. “After the first year, I was offered a three-year scholarship.
“I enjoyed everything about the ROTC program. We did PT every morning. I liked the structure it provided. It made college much more serious for me. It gave me a purpose to get up and go to class.”
Woolsey accepted his ROTC scholarship at a time when the nation was not at war and when its citizens had not yet endured the horrendous attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. As for many other young future Soldiers, 9/11 defined more clearly for Woolsey what it means to serve in the military.
“It was a different world from the time I started college and when I graduated,” he said. “Prior to 2003, most Soldiers hadn’t been deployed. So, what they talked about in ROTC wasn’t the Army I experienced.”
Between his junior and senior year, like other cadets, Woolsey had to choose the Army field he would pursue after graduation. By that time, he had focused in on aviation.
“I had a professor of military science who was an OH-58 Kiowa Warrior pilot. He glamorized the life of an Army aviator. So, that’s what I wanted to do,” he said.
With graduation came his commission and an assignment " or opportunity " in aviation, his number one career choice. While waiting for flight school, Woolsey served as a recruiter at Ole Miss for four months.
He attended flight school at Fort Rucker from 2003-05. Woolsey had completed officer basic course and the initial rotary wing training officers basic course and was on his way to the advanced aircraft qualification course when opportunity again knocked.
“There were 20 of us in the class competing for slots for advanced aircraft,” he said. “I wanted to be an Apache pilot and I was third in the class. So, I thought I had a good chance at getting my choice.
“But there was only one Apache slot. The first guy in the class took the one slot for Apache. The second guy took the one slot for Chinook. I was devastated.”
The third highest student in the class only had two choices " take one of the five C-12 fixed wing slots or one of the 12 Black Hawk slots.
“I decided I would fly fixed wing. I was actually very upset about it,” he said.
But opportunity didn’t stop there. It wasn’t long before Woolsey was contacted by someone in the class just ahead of him who wanted to make a deal. He traded his Apache pilot helicopter slot and an assignment to Illeshien, Germany, for Woolsey’s C-12 slot.
That trade " or opportunity -- put Woolsey right where he wanted to be.
“The Apache is probably the most advanced helicopter we have,” he said. “I thought it would be a challenge, and it was. At first, I was a co-pilot and then I became the pilot in command.”
In Germany, Woolsey served with the 2nd of the 159th Attack Helicopter Battalion under the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade. His service with the brigade from April 2005 to October 2008 included a 15-month deployment to Baghdad, Iraq.
“We deployed in the early summer of 2007, right on the tail end of the surge,” he said. “I saw Iraq as two different places. It was a much scarier place at the beginning of the deployment than it was when I left. At least when we left, you could tell that U.S. forces were making a difference in the city. It was a much more secure place by the time we left.”
Woolsey flew Apache missions three to four times a week, with typical missions requiring four to eight hours of flight time and equating to 16-hour days of combined flight and ground time.
“There were plenty of times of combat,” he said. “The mission of the Apache was valuable in that environment. We provided reconnaissance platforms and close combat support. Every mission required to fly two Apache aircraft together. There were a few of those moments that made me a little nervous.”
Many of the missions flown by Woolsey were over Baghdad at night. Traffic in that air space added an extra element of danger to the mission.
“At any given point, 25 to 30 helicopters were operating over that city conducting separate missions,” he said. “We were all supporting the guys on the ground while having to look out for guys in the air. It could be intense.”
Although Woolsey appreciates the experience he gained from his deployment, he also recognizes the toll it took on his young family.
“It was a life experience. It stretched me as a pilot, as an officer. I definitely felt a lot older after that deployment,” he said.
“And it really stretched my family. My wife has always been supportive of my work. We dated in high school, and then met back up and started dating again toward the end of college. She was all for what I was doing with the Army.”
Woolsey’s daughter, Grace, was born three months after he left for Iraq. She was 11 months old when he returned.
“I saw her for a few days as a baby and then the next time I saw her she was almost a 1-year-old,” he said. The family has since added a son named Jackson.
Since his deployment, Woolsey has been able to make up for his absence. He and his family have been together through his captain’s career course at Fort Rucker, and at Fort Carson, Colo., where he was the line company commander of an Apache attack battalion and then the maintenance company commander.
“As a line company commander, there were eight Apache helicopters in the company with 16 pilots, and 16 crew chiefs and mechanics. I had to ensure that everyone was trained and able to perform the mission of the attack helicopter,” he said. “As a maintenance company commander, I was in command of 140 mechanics providing maintenance for 24 Apache helicopters.
“While I was there, we trained at the National Training Center three times. We were scheduled to deploy, but with the drawdown in Iraq those orders were changed.”
In February, Woolsey was asked if he wanted to interview for the aide de camp position with AMCOM’s commander. The opportunity was too good to pass up.
“Being from Nashville, this is a great place for my family,” he said. “I have been taken out of an active unit and I am out of the operational Army. But it’s important to take on other career enlightenment positions, and that’s what this is for me. This is a good opportunity.”
In the short amount of time he has been here, Woolsey has discovered how busy an organization like AMCOM is, and how effective it can be in making a difference for Soldiers.
“There are a lot of challenges here,” he said. “Maj. Gen. Rogers has a very full calendar, and I am here to help him manage the daily demands of his duties.”
Though there is not a need right now for Woolsey to remain constantly ready for an Apache mission, he won’t let his skills get dusty while he’s temporarily grounded at AMCOM.
“There’s always a need for attack aviation, and I will be ready when future assignments take me out of key development jobs and put me back in an Apache,” he said. “I do like the constant challenges of both an Apache pilot and an officer charged with executive duties.”
No matter where the next opportunity takes him, Woolsey knows he will continue to take whatever challenges come his way.
“In the Army, I have especially enjoyed the feeling that even though it may be small and I might not see it at first, I can make some bit of difference somewhere for Soldiers,” he said.