By Sean Hicks, USASAC Country Program ManagerFebruary 22, 2017
The alarm bell goes off, and a 7-year old boy grabs a couple of books off the shelf and ducks under his desk assuming a turtle position. Each child is a little scared, but also sees this as more of a game. The teachers tells us to remain calm, this is a nuclear bomb drill; the year is 1981. Fast forward 35 years later on Jan. 18, 2017, in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
That same kid, now an adult, is standing in an old USSR hangar in sub-zero weather that brought about this strong flashback to times long past. But this is not a story of the past, but one of the future; it's a story about American exceptionalism and one of American partnership. However, at the heart of the story you will find what keeps America's pulse going, the people.
I stood watching two young men from south Alabama, Jessie Lawrence and Kevin Helms both aircraft mechanics, as they conducted final assembly of the fourth "Huey," or UH-11, helicopter to be delivered to Kazakhstan. There was about 3 feet of snow on the outside of the rusted out pre-fall of the USSR hangar and on the inside there were piles of snow throughout the hangar to match the frozen breath of all the U.S. government and contract support personnel involved in this mission.
In an effort to ensure that the U.S. government met its promised delivery, these two mechanics continued to work through the bitter cold. It was through their herculean efforts, along with Dave Archer (foreign military sales program manager for Bell Helicopter) and Andrew Kelly (field support engineer) that we finalized the case on Jan. 19.
It should be noted at this point, and many times prior to this point, Patrick Williams, product quality manager from the Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center's Quality Management Division, and Chris Martin, from CAS Inc. in support of NSRWA PMO Aircraft Maintenance/Quality Control PM Non-Standard Rotary Wing Aircraft, assisted in the final delivery process.
The finished Huey was in stark comparison to the broken-down and aged Soviet equipment in the hangar. The headquarters commander gave us a tour of the area before we departed to the Huey's final operational post. Before the tour started, Ambassador George Kroll noted to the team that it was remarkable that such a fine piece of American machinery was delivered all the way from Ozark, Alabama, and constructed in Kazakhstan.
Such an accomplishment stood testament to the ability of the American professionalism and expertise. During the tour, it was hard not to notice the deterioration of the building and the quick patch jobs that probably dated back to the 1970s and 1980s; and juxtapose that to the hangars and machinery we are accustomed to in America.
After the tour of the plant, we traveled to the aviation post where the Huey would be located. During our walk out the airfield, we could hear the Huey's distinct "whump, whump, whump" sound. At first, I thought that it was the fourth bird that we delivered, but as it turns out it was actually the second Huey. The Kazakhstan special operations were conducting high altitude-low opening operation from the aircraft. It was spectacular to see them jump from an American machine, fall silently through the air, and land within 10 feet of a bull's-eye out on the snow-covered field.
After a couple of passes of the Huey and its jump operations, we were able to see the bird land. The Huey came in under the control of a Kazakhstan pilot about 15 feet off the ground, blowing snow and artic wind across our position. The bird slowly moved along a preordained path staying at about the same height.
It was impressive to see; however, the fourth Huey came in shortly after that piloted by Cornelius McMillan, an American pilot, and an old hand on the stick. As a matter of fact, he was the delivery pilot of all four aircraft, starting almost 10 years earlier.
We then conducted a celebration ceremony, where a bottle of champagne was broken on the bird and milk with bread were shared. Kenneth Bernhardt, international program manager, Aviation and Missile Command, Security Assistance Management Directorate, was noted as the person behind this event. Without his efforts, the building of this partner's capacity would never have happened.
During this event, and quite frankly throughout all my times visiting this country, I noticed how happy the Kazakhstans were to have us there and how appreciative of all that the U.S. had supported them. This event marked 25 years of security cooperation between the two countries and I can say that in the last five, I have seen marked changes.
The government is not as controlling; they are privatizing many things that were nationalized, moving to a more capitalist and free society. I would like to think that in some small or even large part that the efforts of the Security Assistance Command and the Army Materiel Command's security assistance enterprise had helped bring about some of these changes. Either directly or indirectly, and that could never have happened without the people involved.
Editor's note: Hicks is an Army veteran who joined USASAC in 2009.