Army Aviation experts come together virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic as mentors to help ensure cadets with the United States Military Academy and Reserve Officer Training Corps, including at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, get the information they need to pursue their dreams.
The virtual mentorship events, with the support of the Organization and Personnel Force Development Directorate, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, provide information about flight school and career progression.
In a recent session conducted via Zoom with cadets at historic Tuskegee University, Maj. Gen. David J. Francis, USAACE and Fort Rucker commanding general, greeted cadets and encouraged them to branch Aviation.
“It’s an incredible opportunity to lead some of the finest young men and women that our Army has to offer--incredible leaders, incredible patriots, and you get to fly the most modern aircraft in the world,” Francis said.
The events seek to dispel myths and doubts cadets may have about aviation, according to Lt. Col. Erika Salerno, deputy at OPFD.
“We provide an overview of Army Aviation and a question and answer session with aviation officers to assist cadets with their branching decision and with their transition from cadet to lieutenant,” she said.
Capt. Matthew Manning, an Apache pilot serving with 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, joined the virtual event from Hawaii to speak about flight school, and the importance of diversity.
For years Manning volunteered to reach out to HBCUs to promote the branch, and eventually linked up with OPFD’s efforts. With a passion for outreach, he encouraged Tuskegee cadets to seek Aviation, and Combat Arms in general.
He explained the sacred trust Aviators have with the commanders and Soldiers on the ground that they support.
“Our motto is ‘Above the Best’ because we fly above the best Soldiers in the world, regardless of what their ethnicity, gender or race or what their branch is. We’re going to support them each and every day,” Manning said.
Manning pointed out the diversity among the aviators who came together as a team to eagerly support and participate in the ongoing outreach to HBCUs.
“There’s no (branch of service) like the Army when it comes to camaraderie, and there’s no branch like Army Aviation when it comes to family,” he said. “When it comes down to flying, … you’re going to do whatever it takes to make sure that brother or sister comes home.”
Manning encouraged the cadets to be the change that they seek in the world.
“Success is not based off race, it’s based off your character and how well you’re going to take care of your Soldiers. That’s what it means to serve in the U.S. Army,” Manning said. “The more diversity we have, the better we are.”
He encouraged them to carry the school’s proud Tuskegee aviation legacy forward.
“You sit in that chair right now holding the keys to success. That Red Tail legacy is already within you. You’ve walked that ground that they have walked. And you have everything at your fingertips in order to make a difference,” Manning said.
As cadets asked their questions, topics included the difficulty level of flight training, how to prepare for Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape school, and whether imperfect eyesight can be a disqualifier.
Lt. Kayla Freeman, an Army aviator who serves as a flight test engineer at Redstone Arsenal, and is a graduate of Tuskegee, spoke to the cadets about issues with her eyes that eventually required surgery. Despite these challenges, she went on to pursue her dream to fly.
“Don’t count yourself out,” said Freeman.
Francis responded to a question about what his advice would be to a new platoon leader.
“You have to be humble, especially in aviation. When you come into an aviation platoon, you have people around you that have far more experience than you do. Your platoon sergeant will have about 14 to 17 years in the Army already. That’s intentional. The reason we pair you up that way is because you’re new, and that NCO has been around for a while. Their job is to build you as a leader and help you be successful,” Francis said.
He explained the young leaders will also be surrounded by warrant officers with years of tactical and technical expertise. The challenge is to lead those professionals well.
“Just because you have more experienced people around you doesn’t mean that you abdicate the responsibility to lead. What they want is for you to lead them,” Francis said. “The training you’re going to get is going to prepare you to lead that formation. And you’re going to get better, and you’re going to make them better, at the same time.”
Francis encouraged cadets to take the Selection Instrument for Flight Training test, and get their flight physical.
“I think you’ve seen what an impressive branch this is. It is an incredible capability for the United States Army. And you get to get a cockpit every day and go do what we do. And I would just tell you I’ve been doing this for 31 years, it’s an absolutely phenomenal career. If I could start over again and be in your place, I would do it today,” Francis said.
“We want you, and are looking for you to come be a part of the aviation branch,” Francis said. “You’ve got great potential there, and I would encourage all of you to give aviation a shot.”