FORT RUCKER, Ala. - Humanity’s effort to move like and with the birds is traced to around 400 B.C. with the discovery of kites that were used for religious ceremonies, testing the weather, and fun. Kites gave way to wings of feather or lightweight woods, and even steam-powered experimentation before Leonardo da Vinci started drawing the Ornithopter flying machine in the 1480s. Today, two U.S. Army aviators are active NASA astronauts, and one might set foot on the moon or Mars.
To inform and educate Army ROTC and U.S. Military Academy cadets of their career options for defying gravity through sustained flight, the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence (USAACE) Organization and Personnel Force Development Directorate (OPFD) regularly conducts aviation branch awareness and mentorship engagements through a combination of virtual and in-person visits.
“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,” said Lt. Col. Erika Salerno, OPFD deputy director.
In fiscal year 2020, OFPD conducted 50 virtual engagements, reaching approximately 1,437 potential future Army aviators, including cadets from 16 historically Black colleges and universities. While incorporating coronavirus mitigation measures, OPFD conducted 37 virtual engagements and three in-person events during fiscal year 2021 — impacting over 1,000 cadets.
The most recent in-person events at Fort Rucker included Florida A&M University and Tuskegee University cadets visiting on different dates. Still, all 50 were able to spend time in a flight simulator, receive a guided tour of the Army Aviation Museum, a branch overview, and talk with the branch chief of Army aviation, Maj. Gen. David J. Francis, USAACE and Fort Rucker commander.
“Aviation is an incredible capability for the United States Army. And you get to get into a cockpit every day and go do what we do. And I would just tell you … it’s an absolutely phenomenal career. If I could start over again and be in your place, I would do it today,” said Francis.
During Q&A sessions, cadets asked about branch diversity, how the Army was addressing the issue, and his advice. Francis acknowledged the issue, for statistics show that for over 5,500 Army aviation commissioned officers, it only averages 15% minority group representation and 11% women across all three components.
He said that the engagement sessions were one way the branch was diversifying and provided some pointed advice.
Don’t self-eliminate, he said. So many think they can’t do it, never try, and miss out.
“We want you, and are looking for you to come be a part of the aviation branch,” Francis said. “You’ve got great potential … and I would encourage all of you to give aviation a shot.”
Interested cadets can contact OPFD through the Aviator Insider Instagram or Facebook pages, or via https://home.army.mil/rucker/index.php/about/usaace/opfd, to learn how they can fly the descendant of da Vinci’s Ornithopter, the modern helicopter. And perhaps one day they will fly beyond the sky.