By USAACE Public AffairsDecember 7, 2016
They say if you want to fly your entire Army career, become a warrant officer.
CW5 Robert W. Purdy did just that when he joined the Army in 1991.
"You're taught from the first time the drill sergeant brim hits you in the nose--it's bigger than you. From day one you get instilled a set of values that go a long way in life, not just in the cockpit," said Purdy, Attack Branch Chief for the Directorate of Evaluation and Standardization here at Fort Rucker.
Now, after nearly 26 years of Army service, Purdy has turned in the keys for the last time, to retire in January.
"You have that realization that everything is the last time you're going to do it, at least with the military. It's gone by fast, but you keep your eyes moving forward," Purdy said.
Purdy previously served at Fort Rucker as a standardization instructor pilot at DES for the Attack Branch.
During his career, Purdy served with the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade as Command Chief Warrant Officer, and deployed to Afghanistan in 2012.
"I was never prouder than to wear that patch on both shoulders," he said.
Purdy's deployments included to Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. He also served two tours in Korea.
He logged more than 5,000 hours of flight time, and was qualified in the UH-1H Huey, OH-58 A/C, AH-1F Cobra, UH-60A/L Black Hawk, and the AH-64 A, D and E models.
"Rob's contributions to the Army and Army Aviation have been tremendous throughout 26 years of service. His dedication to the profession and Soldiers will be missed," said. Lt. Col. Thomas J. Barrett, director of DES.
Purdy's interest in military service goes back to his childhood in Malvern, Arkansas.
"We had fights about who was going to be the Germans and who was going to be the 101st Airborne when we played 'World War Two' in the neighborhood," Purdy said.
Purdy's great-grandfather served during World War I, and his grandfather served in World War II as a glider pilot in the European theater, he said.
Seeing a Cobra helicopter on display at a festival in his hometown was where the "love affair" began with the first attack helicopter he would fly, he said.
Purdy entered Army Aviation street-to-seat in the warrant officer program, and married his wife Amy shortly after he finished flight school at Fort Rucker.
"She won the game," he said. "We're leaving the Army with the family intact."
The first deployment, to Kuwait, was the most challenging, he said.
"Amy and I had literally just signed in to Savannah, Ga. Boxes in the hallways, no pictures hung up. I didn't even know how to get to work… My wife was a champ. She said, 'I'll be fine, I'll figure it out'," Purdy said.
"The level of connectivity wasn't there. You were lucky to get a satellite phone call once a month. They became easier as the theaters became more mature," Purdy said.
He recalled Ted Koppel loaning him a satellite phone in Baghdad to call his wife in 2003.
Purdy described the 12-hour shifts in 2005-06 in Afghanistan.
"If the base takes indirect fire you get the helicopter up as quick as possible. Deliberate operations. Forty-eight hours or sometimes less of planning beforehand before you go to support," he said.
Fast-forward to an Afghanistan deployment in 2012.
"You're still serving as an air mission commander, but now you're part of a brigade command team. It's more of, what does the brigade commander, what do the task force commanders need me to help with, in terms of being a conduit between their warrant officers doing the same job I was doing seven years earlier," he said.
The bottom line is no-fail support to the Soldier on the ground in harm's way.
"The individual on the ground who is on the other end of the radio, who is under fire… is trusting you to know your job well enough to get them out of that bind. It drives home the seriousness of what we're trying to accomplish here at Fort Rucker and to prepare that aviator to be able to provide that support," Purdy said. "I get a little passionate about that."
Recently he spent more time teaching instructors.
"That's the beauty of being at DES-- you're able to go out to the field, to go to Afghanistan, to still plug in with the force and hopefully have that teach, coach, mentor relationship to the next generation of instructors," Purdy said.
"There's nothing more important you can do than train somebody to replace you," he said.
Purdy said he feels blessed by great teammates over the years.
"I remember thinking my first day in the Army I never felt more alone in my life, when I'm laying in a cot at Fort Jackson," Purdy said. "Now here at the end, my family literally could not be bigger.
"It's more than flying an aircraft, more than a mission. It's that cohesive team you build through a little bit of shared misery and common experiences. There's no other job that builds teamwork like sitting in a cockpit of an Apache."