Flying high 'fives': Senior warrant officers reflect on mentorship
February 17, 2012
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- In the Army Aviation community, when a chief warrant officer 5 walks through the door, they immediately receive respect. Earning the CW5 patch doesn't come easy; it comes with years of experience, deployments and sacrifices -- on and off duty.
Last month, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade leaders promoted two of their top pilots to the rank of chief warrant officer 5 -- the highest rank in the Warrant Officer Corps. Chief Warrant Officer 5 Rick Arnold and Chief Warrant Officer 5 Bob Cuyler were "pinned" during a small ceremony recently.
Collectively, the two UH-60 Black Hawk pilots have nearly 60 years of military service under their belts. Arnold served 10 years in the Air Force as a nuclear weapons specialist, and Cuyler served almost nine years with the Air National Guard 174th Tactical Fighter Wing out of Syracuse as an engineer assistant, before they attended the U.S. Army Warrant Officer Candidate School and U.S. Army Aviation School, both located at Fort Rucker, Ala.
Arnold, who just started his new job as the brigade's standardization pilot this month, said it was "quite a shock" transitioning from the Air Force to the Army -- not just with dedicated physical training but the whole culture was different.
"Honestly, I would never go back; I've never regretted the decision (to join the Army) for one second," he said.
Arnold also is rated in the UH-1 Huey, OH-58 Kiowa and CH-47 Chinook, but as the brigade's standardization pilot, he only flies the Black Hawk and Chinook.
"It's unusual -- normally when you get an advanced aircraft, you stay in that aircraft (throughout your career)," he said. "As I've moved up through the ranks, (the previous brigade standardization pilot) convinced (the leadership) that it would be good for the (brigade) for me to be dual-rated."
Making the transition from the Task Force Knighthawk battalion standardization pilot to the brigade-level position has been a bit of a change, Arnold admitted.
"You're more in the weeds when you're at battalion level or task force level -- working on records for the pilots and things like that, but once you go up (to brigade), you're more of an adviser for the brigade commander," he said. "(At this new job), the priority isn't flying; it's advising and making sure we standardize what everyone is doing across the brigade. It's a team effort, and I'm just one piece."
Arnold explained that he and Cuyler, along with the brigade's safety officer, work together to make sure everything flows smoothly.
Cuyler, who has been stationed at Fort Drum twice in his 20-year Army career, said getting to the rank of chief warrant officer 5 requires hard work and dedication.
"With the drawdowns across the Army and Department of Defense, (young warrant officers') ability to make it to the position I'm at is going to be tougher, which is going to require them to go beyond the job description in order to set themselves apart from their peers," he said. "If they do that, the path is there.
They will have the opportunity to pin (on) the highest rank in the Warrant Officer Corps someday."
Throughout the years, Cuyler has had opportunities to prove himself and go above and beyond what was required of him. He partially attributes his work ethic to retired Chief Warrant Officer 5 Dick Edginton, a former 10th CAB standardization officer.
"He was here for much of my 14 years (at Fort Drum)," he said. "It's guys like him -- always being there and always doing the right thing. He always gave us somebody to look up to -- there was never a question about that."
Edginton was a mentor on a daily basis, Cuyler added.
"You don't always find somebody like that," he said. "No matter when you looked at him, he was always doing something in a way that made you hoped to do it someday."
Cuyler remembered one day when he was a young pilot, he asked Edginton a question about an aircraft system.
"It wasn't a matter of 30 minutes later that I found myself out on the flight line in a static aircraft with him going over the system; he was that type of guy," he explained. "He didn't just give you an answer or give you a reference … he took a personal interest in (your) understanding the answer."
"I do (try to model myself after him), but it's hard with our schedules and all of our taskings (to) give that kind of attention to our young warrant officers, but it's priceless if you can," he continued.
Arnold has had several mentors who have helped him achieve success in his career. When he was working at Task Force Knighthawk, he said Sgt. 1st Class Cameron Gardehl and Sgt. Jeffrey Griebling taught him a lot.
"I'll tell you what, NCOs are the backbone of the Army, and that's especially true in aviation," Arnold said. "(Griebling) kept me straight. I could discuss things with him on a standardization level, and he would know what I was talking about."
"You don't just learn from those above you, you learn from those all around you," he continued." I learned a lot from (Griebling). We had such a good relationship."
Griebling was promoted to staff sergeant while their unit was deployed to Afghanistan, and he asked Arnold to pin him.
"I thought that was one of the biggest honors of my life to be able to promote him," Arnold added.
"Between those two guys, it was definitely a team effort," he continued. "The success of the standardization of this task force was not (because of) me; it was them. It was all of us working together and making it happen."
Although Arnold and Cuyler are both eligible for retirement, they haven't begun making plans to hang up the uniform. Both men have served the military for more than half of their lives, and they admitted that retirement will be a tough adjustment.
"Being promoted to (chief warrant officer 5) was the pinnacle of my career," Arnold said. "Most warrant officers strive for that (chief warrant officer 5) promotion all their lives. I am honored and humbled to be selected."
Arnold said the Army keeps him in a structured environment -- and he said he likes it that way.
"I've been in 30 years active and I'm very institutionalized in the military, so I don't really know anything outside of the military," he said, adding that he was even in the Naval Junior ROTC program in high school. "So really, for about 34 years, I've known nothing but the military."
Arnold plans to stay here for another couple of years, but he knows he might have to move to another unit.
"I've been with the (10th Combat Aviation Brigade) for 10 years," he said. "I recently told Col. (Pedro) Almeida (10th CAB commander)that this is the best unit I've ever been assigned to. I don't really ever want to be in another unit, and I'm proud to be a part of this organization."
"I have always said that I would stay in the Army as long as they would keep me; the promotion just made it easier to stay," he continued. "I have no plans for retirement, (but) when I do retire, I will still try to work with Soldiers and service members. I love the community!"
Before being promoted, Cuyler said he had plans for life after the Army -- and he still does. While he knew a promotion was possible, it wasn't set in stone.
"It's a tough cut -- nothing is given in this Army," he said. "When you're in Warrant Officer Candidate School, you don't look at it that way. You think everybody is going to make it someday, because that's everybody's goal to make it to the top."
Because he was eligible for retirement, Cuyler, who was born and raised in Oswego County, began making plans for life after the Army. Learning of his promotion left Cuyler with "mixed emotions."
"There are added responsibilities with wearing this rank," he said. "You have the emotion of the added responsibility and the acceptance of that responsibility, which I don't take lightly, but there is also that sigh of relief because your whole career from Warrant Officer Candidate School up until that point, you're toeing the line, trying to do the right thing and you're trying to set yourself apart from your peers to make mission."
"There is that sigh of relief of 'I made it,' but equally so -- and sometimes more overwhelming -- is the thought of the responsibility. It is rewarding," he continued.
For now, Cuyler said he plans to continue his role in Army Aviation.
"I don't have a (retirement) target on the wall as of yet," he said. "I've planted 600 apple trees and I have a couple thousand more apple trees on order. It takes a few years to get them up and running, so it's something I don't need to move to in the next couple of years. That's going to be my life after the military -- a family-run orchard business down in Oswego County."
"It's a whole new chapter in my life along with my wife -- a lot more family-oriented and a lot more family time," he continued. "Both my children are grown and moved from home. I know this many years in the military has taken a lot from (them). Military Families pay the price of separation."
While his wife was looking forward to his retirement, she knew Cuyler wasn't ready.
"I continue to do what I do because I enjoy doing it; every day I find enjoyment out of what I'm doing," he explained. "The reason why I enjoy doing it is because of our young Soldiers. It's their enjoyment of doing their job that makes me enjoy my job."
It's easy to look at the outside world and point out what's wrong with young people in today's world, Cuyler said.
"But you go to the military and you see very little of that," he said. "You can see what's right with our young men and women who are very focused on their job, they understand our mission and they're excited about being a part of that mission. That's why I enjoy doing what I do."