By Staff Sgt. Thaddius S. Dawkins II, U.S. Army Special Operations Aviation CommandMarch 28, 2014
FORT CAMPBELL, KY -- As the A Company, 1st Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment hangar began to fill with people March 21, it was clear this wasn't just another retirement ceremony.
This ceremony had an even greater significance than most others. After all, CW5 Karl H. Maier and CW5 George "Billy" Cook had more than 70-years of combined Army Service -- with more than 50 of those years spent as Night Stalkers.
"We planned on 250 people, but we ran out of programs, seating and food," said 1st Sgt. Devon M. Weber, A Co., 1st Bn., 160th SOAR. "Honestly, we lost count at 350 people. It was a sight to see guys piled around the ceremony sitting in aircraft and maintenance stands, just to get a glimpse of the two legends."
The day prior to the ceremony, flight-leads from A Co. took the opportunity to talk about Maier and Cook. The men, in true honor of the Quiet Professional motto, asked to speak under the condition of anonymity.
According to those men, both Maier and Cook are the reason A Co. is what it is today.
"When Karl first arrived at the unit, there was still a stigma with being the new guy," one flight lead said. "No one would really appreciate you or listen to anything you said until you proved yourself. Karl learned early on that wasn't the way to treat people. He helped Alpha Company change for the better and everyone was treated with respect. He quickly learned treating them poorly didn't produce performers, it just made people unhappy with life and not wanting to be here."
"Like Karl, Billy agreed in the mentality of not calling people out in front of others and treating people poorly," another flight lead added. "He has never once called anyone out in public. Believe me, I've had my fair share of talks from him, but it was always him and I alone. He never did it to anyone in public."
Up until their retirement ceremony March 21, Maier was the longest-tenured Night Stalker in the 160th SOAR (A). He had been in the unit since 1986, with a majority of his time serving in the same company. Cook wasn't too far behind, having served 24-years in the legendary unit.
"Pretty much everything you've read in any book about the 160th, Karl was a part of," said one of the flight-leads who first met Maier 20 years ago. "In 23 years of Aviation service, I have not met anyone with more professional military Aviation knowledge than Karl Maier.
"Karl and Billy have always been that mark on the wall that I have tried to achieve at the professional level," he added.
Both men, described as absolute professionals by the men they had worked with for so long, were two polar opposites when it came to personality. Maier is reserved and quiet, while Cook is as outgoing as they come.
The flight-leads elaborated on Maier's personality, describing him as the most humble man they had ever met.
"During Gothic Serpent, Karl was awarded the Silver Star for his role in the mission," one flight lead said. "The only thing he cared about was, 'Well if I'm getting this, what are the rest of my guys receiving?' He was always thinking about others. Even during our mission briefs, with every decision made, his first thought was how will this affect the guys on my crew?"
"I often talk about Karl, describing him as the hero who landed the Little Bird in the streets of Mogadishu to save the Ranger unit -- the ultimate expression of courage in my book," said Maj. Gen. (P) Kevin W. Mangum, former 160th SOAR commander and having just changed command as the Aviation Branch Commander. "And as the consummate and quiet professional, Karl successfully resisted telling his story to anybody who would ask, for over 20 years.
"For those reasons, I chose Karl to be the first regiment command chief warrant officer," he added. "I'm proud to say that based off of Karl's example, our combat Aviation brigades will see the position of command chief warrant officer added into their organizational structure starting next year."
"Karl has been a strong personal role model and good friend for more than 20 years," said CW5 Bob D. Witzler, the U.S. Army Operations Aviation Command's command chief warrant officer. "He has always been a consistent example for warrant officers to emulate and we will miss him in our formation. His accomplishments in Army Special Operations Aviation are legendary, and I consider myself lucky to have served with him and to have had the opportunity to follow his example, albeit unsuccessfully."
Mangum further elaborated on the type of leader Maier has been throughout his illustrious career.
"In the Army, we define leadership as the process of influencing people by providing purpose, motivation and direction to accomplish the mission and improve the organization," Mangum said. "Karl Maier is just that each and every day in a humble and multifaceted way since his arrival here, nearly 27-years-ago. I cannot think of any Night Stalker who has served continuously for 27 years."
The flight leads also lent insight into Cook's personality and what he meant to the Night Stalkers.
"He can do a handshake with a guy he's never met before, talk to him for 30 seconds and he's already befriended the guy for life" one of them said. "He's very witty and has a personality that everyone likes. He's like your best friend as soon as he meets you. Everyone throughout the community knows Billy for that reason."
Col. John R. Evans Jr., commander of the 160th SOAR (A), added to the thought that Cook is well-known throughout the Special Operations community.
"The United States Special Operations Command consists of over 65,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines," he said. "Despite the sheer magnitude of this multifaceted and complex organization, regardless of where you're operating, if you say the word, 'Billy,' everyone knows who you're talking about."
"That's just the type of guy he is," one flight lead said. "His outgoing personality has made him the face of the Regiment. Billy Cook is friends with everyone."
Along with his personality, Evans said it is Cook's commitment to the job that made him the well-respected Aviator that he has become.
"In a tight-knit community where uncommon valor is a common virtue and reputation is quickly known, you would be hard-pressed to find any operator who garners as much universal recognition as Billy Cook," he said.
During his speech to the large audience attending the ceremony, Mangum said it was a "sad, but very sweet and happy day." Something the flight-leads and platoon sergeant echoed the day prior.
"We always say that no one is so important that if you left today someone isn't going to be able to backfill you," one said in closing. "But Karl and Billy don't fall into that. Trying to replace them is going to be impossible. Guys will continue to progress professionally and do all those things. We will all take a little bit from those guys to try to make ourselves better, but collectively to try to capture everything that they knew, a single person won't be able to do that for either one of those guys."