By Sgt. Brandon BanzhafMay 18, 2015
FORT IRWIN, Calif. -A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter shutters against the strong winds, and some of its passengers got a bit nervous.
Even so, the two crewmen sitting behind the pilots remain unnerved.
Perhaps they had nerves of steel or were accustomed to the turbulence, or perhaps they were just intensely focused on their mission - going home.
The 3rd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade "Warriors," 1st Cavalry Division flew various types of aircraft back to Fort Hood, Texas, after completing their National Training Center rotation at Fort Irwin, California, May 11.
"Coming home is always the better trip," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Joseph Moseley. "Generally, there is a tailwind with the winds coming from the west. So instead of flying against the winds to get [to NTC], we were flying with it on the way back. It's like we are being pushed back home."
The journey home, all 1,000 miles of it, would be a unique trip only those in aviation can experience. Everyone else would take a commercial flight back to Texas
What might appear to be a long, monotonous journey is actually quite pleasant for these aviators. The opportunity to fly and travel boosts crew morale and camaraderie.
"That's one of the cool things about aviation," said Spc. Bryan Pentz, a Littleton, Ohio, native and UH-60 Black Hawk crewmember with 3-227th. "We are more close knit than other units. Once, we stopped for the night, and we went out as a group and ate some steaks."
As the formation of Black Hawks rolled down the tarmac at each pit stop, two door gunners sitting on separate but parallel aircraft, leans out their windows to play a game.
Rock, paper, scissors... shoot.
After a couple of rounds, smiles broke out from underneath the mirror-like visors on their helmets.
Once they stopped rolling, everyone gathered their belongings and performed after-flight inspections and procedures. When they were all happy with their bird's condition, they headed into a building similar to a clubhouse at a golf course.
Greeted with smiles, the crews kicked their feet up and stretched as their aircraft was refueled.
"The reception is awesome," said Pentz. "Once they know that we are coming, they deliver a lot of food and drinks. Some have a room where we can rest and watch a movie."
When the birds were ready to go, the crews got back to work. They doubled checked the aircraft and then took off - toward their homes and families.
"The morale is pretty good," said Moseley. "Everybody is happy that they are heading home. There is a tightness that is created every time you are in the suck together."
The crews don't always work in the same teams. Getting the right mixture of new and seasoned Soldiers is key to keeping the flights smooth and mistake free.
"They will mix those who have a lot of flight hours with those who have more or less," said Pentz. "But they don't put two new guys on the same crew. But everyone is friendly, so it doesn't matter who we work with."
Once the formation reached Fort Bliss, the crews powered down not only their aircraft for the night, but also themselves. Pilots are required to get a certain amount of sleep before and in between flights.
Some immediately went to rest their heads when they got to their hotel room, and others took another opportunity to eat their first full meal in a month, before turning in for the evening. Either way, morning came early for all of them. Everyone was back up and at the flight line by 7 a.m.
While on the last half of the trip home, the previously sunny weather took an unpleasant turn. The group of helicopters was forced to make an unexpected stop to find an alternate route.
"If there is a chance we can get home safely, we will take it," said Pentz.
After carefully planning multiple routes around the storm, the six Black Hawks took off, trying to make it through a small window of decent weather before an impending, larger storm could force them to extend their trip a few days.
With only a few moments of mild turbulence, the group of birds made it to the last stretch.
The formation soon found themselves flying over the gates of Fort Hood and seeing the familiar streets, buildings and something else they knew all to well -- their own flight line.
The second the crewmembers landed and removed their helmets, not a single crewmember had anything short of a ear to ear smile on their faces, relieved to be back at home.
Families met their loved ones in their maintenance bays waiting to land a tight hug and a kiss.
Some Soldiers without Families to welcome them, will spend their night celebrating with friends.
One thing is for sure after the month-long NTC training exercise - there's no place like home.
"I love and miss my Familly," said Moseley. "I can't wait to get home and spend time with my kids."