Infantryman switches gears, takes to the skies as a door gunner in Afghanistan
Specialist Curtis Rucker, from Mantua, N.J, a door gunner assigned to Company A 'Vulteres', Task Force Lobos, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, pulls fire guard as his UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter prepares to take off for a mission May 2. Rucker initially joined the Army as an infantryman, but was offered the opportunity to serve as a door gunner/ crew chief for the 1st ACB. He has flown almost 600 hours this deployment, more than any other enlisted Soldier in his company. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Joe Armas)

CAMP MARMAL, Afghanistan -- Specialist Curtis Rucker, from Mantua, N.J., joined the Army thinking his career path would leave him relegated to the ground and hauling a 100 pound rucksack as an infantry trooper.

Shortly after he arrived at his first duty station, the chance to take to the sky as a door gunner came about. It was an opportunity he couldn't turn down.

"I was pretty pumped when I found I was going to fly…it was a childhood dream coming true." said Rucker, who is assigned to Company A 'Vultures', Task Force Lobos, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division.

His transition from the ground to the air didn't happen overnight.

"When I got to the unit, I didn't know anything about the Black Hawk," Rucker Added. He said his fellow Soldiers in the company helped him with the basic mechanics, and the progression continued from there.

After a short stint learning the intricacies of the aircraft, Rucker took to the skies for the first time.

"I was like a kid in a candy store," said Rucker. "I didn't know what to expect, but I was blown away at first."

Rucker's platoon sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class Fred Brooking, said he saw that Rucker had the potential to excel from early on.

Progressing as a crew chief/door gunner in an environment with a high operational tempo requires someone to be a motivated self-starter, said Brooking, from Yakima, Wash., A Co., TF Lobos, 1st ACB.

Brooking said Rucker fits that bill.

"Rucker is one of the hardest working Soldiers we have," added Brooking. "He's flown almost 600 hours this deployment, more than any other enlisted Soldier in the company."

Flying basic traffic patterns at first, Rucker eventually had the opportunity to take part in high-profile passenger movements and air assault missions.

Rucker recalls one mission in particular in which his aircrew was tasked to extract special operations forces from the battlefield.

"We were coming into a landing zone and it was very dark since the sky was barely illuminated," he said.

Dust was coming up everywhere and it was almost impossible to see, he added.
"We had never landed in that area before, but with teamwork we made it happen," he added.

Adamant about his love and passion for flying, Rucker said the freedom and peacefulness that one has up in the skies spark his desire to continue to do so.

Once his re-enlistment window opens, he hopes he'll be able to transition into a full-time position as a Black Hawk crew chief.

His platoon sergeant has high expectations for him, regardless of where Rucker's career path takes him.

"He's a fantastic Soldier, an outstanding young man, and he's going to do well no matter what he does for the Army," said Brooking.

Page last updated Fri May 4th, 2012 at 00:00