Aviation seminar honors past, anticipates future
September 27, 2012
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (September 27, 2012) -- Participants in the second Aviation History seminar session picked the brains of past and present Soldiers and Aviators to understand the possible future path the Army and the Aviation Branch might be taking.
The session, focusing on the Cold War era, was held at the Seneff Aviation Warfighting Simulation Center Sept. 13 and proved to be educational for audience members.
Patrick Hughes, the Aviation Branch historian, spoke first with a reflection from Maj. Gen. Anthony G. Crutchfield, former commanding general of the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker, about the importance of the era.
"I did an interview with [Crutchfield] recently and he indicated that what was done after the Vietnam War was absolutely essential to what the Army has become today. He said without the things that they did at that point we wouldn't have been flying Cobras or Huey's in our most recent conflicts," said Hughes.
The period is important for a number of very different things, according to Hughes.
"We as an Army saw the end of the draft, we saw a drastic downsizing, we had the creation of Aviation as a Branch, with all of the personnel issues that led to it, which created a more robust Aviation leadership. We also saw the movement to the all-volunteer force, and that force would have a drastically different outlook on how the Army would have to fight," he said.
With the downsizing of the Army during that time, Hughes said that the firm commitment to technology was what transformed the Army into what it is today.
"We had to fight outnumbered, and everything that was done during those years was because of that. The solution was technology, particularly our Aviation. We had the development of the Black Hawk and the Apache. We saw the development of night vision that changed the way Army Aviation could operate," he said.
A member from the audience asked what lessons panel members took from the Vietnam conflict and did they intend to use them in a future fight in Europe or Korea, which proved to be an interesting question for the panel to answer.
"The biggest thing that I picked up from my company commanders during that transition point was that because they had fought on the ground and in the air they had a better grasp of the operation. Because they saw the fight a couple of screen shots out they were able to anticipate the enemy's actions, and I used that in my entire career," said retired Maj. Gen. James Simmons.
One of the most significant topics covered was the creation of new aircraft.
"When we transitioned to the Aviation Branch, my experience up until that point in 1983 is that the guys that were commanding the Aviation formations were exceptional guys. They had commanded on the ground and commanded Aviation formations all over the continent, and a significant portion of those guys went on to be general officers of infantry, armor and artillery. As a result, the planning for the Apache and Black Hawk were done by infantry Aviators and armor Aviators. Those aircraft would not have been developed if it were not for the relationship that had developed in Vietnam between the ground guys and Army Aviation, and those generals' commitment to having a robust Army Aviation," said Simmons.
The birth of new aircraft from that era sparked a new topic about the transition that the Army is currently going through.
"We are going through a similar transition now that we were in the 80s. It is these types of tactics that are going to drive us to make Army Aviation a little different. We have those folks on the ground and we are now getting their perspective. One of the things that we are doing in Directorate of Training and Doctrine is connecting with them as we look at the future organization and the equipment that will be required for it, and how to prepare for those future missions," said Col. Jessie O. Farrington of USAACE.
Some on the panel were pleased with the Branches birth while others disagreed.
"The biggest thing that I saw with the birth of Aviation as a Branch was that many officers were forced to leave battalions they were comfortable with to become Aviators. Many leaders chose to stay with their parent branch for a variety of reasons, never putting on their wings again," said Simmons.
Other members, like retired CW4 Ron Manning, were worried at first, but happy with the overall results.
"Many warrant officers were worried about losing their jobs with the Branch separating because they feared their jobs would be given to second lieutenants. We were concerned about who would get the instructor pilot slots, who was going to get the safety officer slots. I think that our Aviation Branch is excellent, but in its first few years we lost some excellent leaders when they had to make the choice between their parent branches or to split off to be with the Aviation Branch," he said.
The seminar often enables panel members to tell war stories to new leadership in an effort for Soldiers to learn from panel members' previous experiences.
"Hopefully the new leadership will make something out of our experiences and change it as necessary to do better. I was hoping there would be some younger folks here, because I think it would be good for them to attend these sessions and speak up and ask the questions they have about what took place in each time era," said retired CW4 Bruce Miller, adding that the birth of the Aviation Branch could have taken up an entire session.