Pilot's pinnacle promotion bittersweet
December 15, 2011
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (Dec. 15, 2011) -- For warrant officers, career progression is a little different -- often a little slower -- than the career progression of noncommissioned officers and commissioned officers. With only five ranks to progress through, they tend to spend a little more time at each rank.
When the aviation community's newest Chief Warrant Officer 5, Kyle Hill, received his rank Dec. 1, he knew the promotion was bittersweet.
"Getting promoted to W5 is the pinnacle," said Hill, the standardization instructor pilot for Task Force Wings, 4th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, at Forward Operating Base Wolverine in southern Afghanistan. "I've reached the top rung, but it's bittersweet, because I know it's not going to last forever."
Hill has spent 22 years in the Army, flying more than 5,000 hours and earning the coveted master aviator badge. He has distinguished himself from his peers since day one in the Army.
When Hill joined the Army in 1989, he was 26 years old -- and his age wasn't the only thing that set him apart from his peers in basic training. Hill said he was one of less than 10 Soldiers in his basic training unit to enter the Army under the High School to Flight School program, which made him a warrant officer candidate immediately after he graduated basic training -- a title he held up until his graduation from flight school.
Hill grew up in Tyler, Texas, where the population was less than 100,000 in 2004. He worked at the local airport from the time he was 15, and that's where his passion for flying began. He started out sweeping floors because he wasn't old enough to do anything else, then he moved on to refueling the planes when he was 16.
Ironically, Hill's first flight didn't come until the day he left for basic training.
"On that first flight, I'm sure I asked myself the same questions everyone else asks," Hill said. "What have I gotten myself into? Did you make the right choice?"
One need look no further than Hill's accomplishments and continued passion for flying to find the answer to that question.
"The experience of flying itself is remarkable," Hill said. "You get a bird's eye view of everything, and I've never gotten over the joy of that."
Hill said there was a time in his career that he had doubts though -- not so much about the flying, but about the Army.
"I was at the point where a lot of warrant officers are today," he said. "They're not committed and not sure if the Army lifestyle is for them."
In 1998, then a chief warrant officer two, Hill decided to leave the Army behind.
"I actually got out," he said. "I thought I could do better."
Like many military pilots, Hill thought the license he earned through the Army would be the ticket to his success as a civilian pilot.
"But I didn't have enough experience," he said. "And that's what they're looking for on the outside."
Instead of flying, Hill became a train conductor. It wasn't long before he missed flying though. His wife Kelly, whom he married in 1994, had supported him through the break in service, and she stood behind him again.
"He wanted to do it because he loved it -- he loves flying," Kelly said. "It seems like that's just what he's made to do."
Hill said one of his favorite things about flying helicopters is the ability to hover.
"That's the unique thing about helicopters," he said. "You can stop and look around. You can look at anything from any perspective."
As a senior warrant officer and a standardization pilot, Hill also fills a role as a mentor to the junior aviators, and perspective is one of the areas he emphasizes in training.
"When we're out flying missions, he looks at the big picture," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jared Marsh, a UH-60M Black Hawk pilot with Company A, 4th Bn., 101st Avn. Rgt. "He's really taught me how to look at the whole picture and evaluate everything."
Marsh said Hill has also taught him patience, a quality that many of Hill's comrades admire in him.
"(He's) a patient and extremely competent officer who lives the Army values on a daily basis," said Lt. Col. Chris Albus, the commander of 4th Bn., 101st Avn. Rgt.
For Hill, that patience pays off in teaching, which is second passion.
"There's nothing more rewarding than watching the light bulb come on when you're teaching a maneuver and they get it," he said. "It's like a teacher teaching math. There's nothing quite like seeing that confidence they get when they learn how to do something, and by giving them that confidence you've accomplished something."
Hill believes that teaching goes beyond the traditional sense of the word though. In fact, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Joe Roberts, the command chief warrant officer for the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, said Hill epitomizes the word leadership, and all the best qualities of a Soldier.
A quiet, humble man, Hill shrugs off the compliments as though he's just doing what he's supposed to.
"It's not until you hit the upper levels of the warrant officer ranks that you're really considered a true leader," Hill said. "As a senior warrant officer, my job is to set the example for those W2s and W3s. You never know who's looking up to you, so you have to constantly do the right thing."