LATHAM, N.Y.--In the summer of 1985, Warrant Officer Charles "Chuck" Rodda took off for the first time as an Army helicopter pilot at Fort Rucker, Alabama.
On June 22, 2017, 31-years and 5,788 hours of flying time later, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Rodda, made his last landing here as an Army helicopter pilot.
Rodda, the standardization instructor pilot for the New York Army National Guard's State Aviation Office, was saluted by his friends and colleagues as he made his "final flight" as an Army Aviator, ending a 31-year flying career and a 35-year career in the New York Army National Guard.
"To be perfectly honest it's a bittersweet type of thing," Rodda said.
"I love what I do. I love wearing the uniform," he added.
"Chief Rodda is the epitome of the professional Army aviator who is always willing to help and strives to do what is best for our organization," said Col. Mark Slusar, the New York Army National Guard's State Aviation Officer.
"One would be hard pressed to find anyone in the New York Army Guard aviation community that has not learned something from him," Slusar added.
As Rodda landed from his final flight he was greeted by his family, a host of Army aviators, and old colleagues who retired before him.
A nephew, New York Army National Guard Spec. Bill Edwards, served as crew chief on the flight. It was their first and last time flying together as Army aviators, Rodda joked.
Another nephew, Air Force Airman Jarr Mazza, based at Dover Air Force Base, also joined him on the flight.
Rodda, age 52, enlisted in the New York Army National Guard at age 17 in January 1982 as a medic. He liked the Guard, but after a few years he wanted a change of pace. So he applied for pilot training and reported to the U.S. Army Aviation Center at Fort Rucker in June 1985.
His first flight hour was in the TH-55 Osage, a two-seat, bubble topped helicopter that was the Army's primary training helicopter from 1964 to 1988.
He graduated a year later in June 1986 and was assigned to Company D, 42nd Aviation Company at Albany International Airport.
During drills and at annual training, Rodda flew the UH-1M, a gunship version of the venerable UH-1 "Huey" helicopter that looked like something out of a Vietnam War movie. It was armed with rockets, the SS-11 anti-tank missile, a 7.62 millimeter coax machine gun, and a 40 millimeter cannon, Rodda recalled.
Then the unit became the 1st Battalion, 142nd Attack Helicopter Battalion and Rodda flew the AH-1S and AH-1F, Cobra attack helicopter.
Being an attack helicopter pilot was a great job, Rodda said. "It was fun blowing things up," he explained.
In 1995 the Latham-based unit became an air assault helicopter battalion and Rodda learned how to fly the UH-60 Blackhawk.
It was a very different aircraft to fly. Instead of the co-pilot and pilot sitting in tandem, as they did in the Cobra, they sat side-by-side. And the aircraft was so large you could no longer see everything important at a single glance, he said.
And while he wasn't blowing things up anymore, flying the Blackhawk was great in a different way. The UH-60 could haul emergency supplies and people, while a Cobra couldn't.
"It was immediately more rewarding because you could help your community and your neighbors right away in an emergency," Rodda said.
Over the next 25 years Rodda would provide that kind of help several times.
He was part of a New York Army National Guard aviation contingent that responded to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In ten days of operations from Camp Shelby, Mississippi, the New Yorkers and other National Guard aircrews moved 600,000 pounds of emergency food, 35,000 pounds of baby formula and supplies and 400 emergency service workers, Rodda remembered.
In 2011 when Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee hit New York, Rodda was in one of the first UH-60s; delivering relief supplies flying with Night Vision Goggles to the Town of Nichols near Binghamton, N.Y. when the Susquehanna River rose and isolated part of the town.
When Superstorm Sandy hit New York in 2012, Rodda once again was flying critical supplies to aid fellow New Yorkers.
In 1998 he joined the Active Guard and Reserve program as a full-time Guardsman. He organized the aviation support for a brigade rotation to the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La. in 2001. In 1997 he went to Iceland in support of a 27th Brigade training deployment.
He deployed to Honduras as part of a humanitarian response to Hurricane Mitch in 1998, Nicaragua in 2002, and back to Honduras again for a deployment in 2006.
When the 3rd Battalion, 142nd Aviation deployed to Iraq in 2009 as Task Force Jester--providing support to coalition units in southern Iraq--Rodda was there as battalion safety officer and instructor pilot.
He's served as the brigade aviation safety officer for the 42nd Combat Aviation Brigade, the New York Army National Guard State Aviation Safety Officer, and as the state standardization instructor pilot.
He also learned to fly the UH-72 Light Utility Helicopter and is certified as an instructor pilot, and Functional Check Pilot in that aircraft as well. He deployed several times to the Southwest Border operating out of Texas and Arizona.
As the state's standardization instructor pilot, he works for the State Aviation Office ensuring that instructor pilots at the state's three flight facilities have the resources needed to do their jobs.
"I give the check rides. I make sure they have the schools they need and the simulator time they need. My main job is to identify what the units need and make sure they have it," he explained.
"It is something I never thought I would see myself doing. It is humbling every day when I think of the talent that is around me. There are a lot of people that can do this but they have me doing it," he added.
While he will be putting aside his Army uniform, Rodda will keep on flying. He's got a job lined up as a corporate pilot flying helicopters in New York and the northeast.
The new job will mean more regular hours and flying out of facilities where the coffee is better than what the Army usually has to offer, Rodda said.
His wife Michelle, said she and their three kids--Charlie, Jacqueline and Lily-- are looking forward to having dad around more.
""There have been a lot of things he had missed over the years, "she said. "It'll be nice to have him home.
While he'll still be flying, he will miss the passengers he has now, Rodda said.
"I love flying the UH-60 and flying the U.S. Army infantry. The best thing that America has to offer is the U.S. Army infantry and it's been an honor," he said.