FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- Since its inception in 1957, the Army Aviation Association of America has grown from a small group of senior aviation officers to an organization with 70 chapters across the nation -- each peopled with a wide variety of Army aviation professionals. Beginning in 1959, the organization has gathered its chapters together each year at the AAAA Army Aviation Mission Solutions Summit. More than just a meeting of minds, the summit is a place where top aviation specialists are recognized with national awards.
At this year's summit -- to be held at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville March 29-31 -- three Soldiers from aviation units at Fort Campbell will be honored for the work they did in 2014.
Keeping aviators safe
In 1958, Senator John L. McClellan lost his son -- an Army aviator -- in a civilian airplane accident. To honor his memory, he developed a safety award to be presented at the first AAAA summit in 1959 -- making it the oldest award in the organization.
The newest recipient of the James H. McClellan Aviation Safety Award will be Sgt. 1st Class Eric D. Wright, Company B, Special Operations Aviation Training Battalion, who was recognized for running a highly effective safety program within the most diversified company of the Special Operations Aviation community.
"It was kind of a shock to me," said Wright on learning he had been named the winner of the award.
Wright admitted that he knew little about the award at first, but decided to do some research when he'd learned that he'd been nominated by his 1st Sergeant to receive the honor. His homework brought him to a single conclusion -- there was no way he was going to be named the winner.
"When I looked at historical recipients, it was typically warrant officers and commissioned officers, because they're the ones usually filling the role of aviation safety officer," he said. "Right when I'd gotten to the point where I was like 'Yeah, there's no way I'm going to win that award,' I got an email that day saying I had."
According to an AAAA press release, Wright was chosen for the honor in light of a large list of accomplishments in aviation safety, including "the safe execution of a 10,000 flying hour program, two commendable ratings on separate inspections and the training of all civilians, contractors and active duty Soldiers in the pre-accident plan."
It's all in a day's work for Wright, who makes the safety of those within the Army aviation program a top priority.
"Education is power when it comes to the safety realm," he said. "I've known people who have gotten injured, and the majority of those incidents could have been prevented in one way or another. I don't want to wait until somebody else gets injured or killed before we act."
Number one in the sky
When it comes to honoring the Army's best aviators, it stands to reason that AAAA's top individual honor would be named after a named after a national hero -- which is why the Aviator of the Year award was named after Medal of Honor recipient CW4 Michael J. Novosel, who rescued 29 men during dangerous medical evacuations in the Vietnam War.
For being "the standard-bearer for all Army aviators," according to the AAAA press release, the 2014 Michael J. Novosel Army Aviator of the Year award will be presented to CW4 Michael Siler, Company C, 1st Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.
"As a special operations battalion standardization pilot, regimental flight lead or senior mentor, the mission and the men always come first," the release continued.
According to Lt. Col. Kyle M. Hogan, executive officer for 1-160th SOAR, Siler's role within the division primed him to be a top nominee -- and ultimately, winner -- of the prestigious award. "CW4 Siler's role as the battalion standardization officer provided a great platform for him to demonstrate his expertise as an aviator, instructor and leader," he said.
"It's well-deserved," said Wright, who learned that his colleague would receive the honor when he got his own award notification. "Those guys have a pretty tough mission over there, and he's done some great things."
While the mission is and always will be the ultimate goal in the world of special operations aviation, most Soldiers within that arena hold a degree of appreciation when this type of recognition comes to be.
"As quiet professionals, we pride ourselves on our ability to execute our missions with little to no fanfare," said Hogan. "With that said, most service members do appreciate it when their actions are acknowledged by the greater aviation community."
Aviation Soldier of the Year
Currently a member of E Company, 4th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, Spc. Luis D. Marino is being recognized as the 2014 Aviation Soldier of the Year in light of his work as a UH-60M Black Hawk door gunner, role model and leader.
"During deployment, Spc. Marino consistently performed as the most reliable Soldier to accomplish a given task, regardless of whether or not the task fell under his primary specialty," the AAAA press release read. "He could be counted on to lead and complete any assignment above the standard while maintaining a positive attitude and motivating others to do the same."