FORT RUCKER, Ala. — As Gary Pruyne retires from Fort Rucker, he carries with him a token that reflects his distinguished service to Army Aviation both as an Army aviator and a Department of the Army civilian employee.
Pruyne was awarded the Order of Saint Michael — Gold Award for his significant contributions over a lifetime of service to the Army Aviation community, its Soldiers and families, during a ceremony at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum Jan. 28, 2022.
Retired Maj. Gen. Tim Crosby, president of the Army Aviation Association of America and former Program Executive Officer for Aviation, presented the award.
“We don’t give out many of these. Major General Francis and I watch over this program pretty closely, and there’s not a lot of people that get (the Gold award),” Crosby said.
Established in 1990 as a partnership between the Army Aviation Association of America and the U.S. Army Aviation Center, the award includes four categories — Bronze, Silver, Gold and Honorary Knight.
According to the Army Aviation Association of America website, Saint Michael is referred to in biblical writings is “an archangel who wages war against evil. He was known as the heavenly prince or champion who specifically charged forward to guard and defend others. He is legendary as the leader of angels who fought a war in heaven and conquered the dragon and cast it down from the skies. Michael’s battles are an allegory of the struggle between good and evil."
Throughout the centuries, Michael has been depicted with a sword fighting or standing over the conquered dragon.
“The legendary image of Saint Michael defeating the dragon exemplifies the bravery and gallantry that we associate with the Aviation soldier. His angelic qualities demonstrate the boldness and swiftness of Army Aviation on the battlefield. As a brave warrior and protector, Saint Michael is the embodiment of courage and justice and is an appropriate symbol of the values and high level of excellence exhibited throughout Army Aviation,” the website explains.
The Gold award is given to individual whose service across their lifetime of service may include professional writing and speaking in support of the branch, supporting important initiatives, and long-lasting contributions over their career in Army Aviation.
During the ceremony, Lt. Col. Charles Walker, 1st Battalion, 223d Aviation Regiment commander, spoke about the highlights of Pryne’s more than more than 56 years of combined active duty and civilian service — which included multiple combat deployments, proficiency in numerous aircraft, and a common thread of service at Fort Rucker, and of helping to shape the future of the branch.
“Those of us lucky enough to have shared a cockpit with him or heard him teach, we’re the lucky ones. We saw a master’s class in aviation instruction,” Walker said.
While on active duty, and continuing his service as a civilian, Pruyne was involved in nearly every aspect of Army Aviation, including door gunner, instructor pilot, operations and maintenance, air traffic control, and simulations.
He served during critical events in Army Aviation’s history, including special operations, flight instruction, and new aircraft fieldings. He amassed nearly 15,000 accident-free flight hours, most of those as an instructor who touched the professional lives of many aviators.
Pruyne entered the Army in 1966, and after completing Advanced Individual Training and the Aircraft Maintenance Course at Fort Rucker, he spent 900 flying hours in combat as a crew chief and hoist operator in Vietnam.
As an enlisted flight instructor, he taught aerial gunnery for the UH-1 to Vietnam bound crew chiefs and served as subject matter expert for all aspects of aerial gunnery. He developed the academic and flight programs of instruction that led to the Department of the Army designating a new military occupational specialty, 67A1F — Aerial Door Gunner, which better prepared thousands of Soldiers headed to Vietnam over the next several years.
He graduated Initial Entry Rotary Wing training in 1970, completed AH-1 Cobra qualification, and headed back to Vietnam to serve as aircraft commander, fire team leader and platoon maintenance officer. Pruyne earned 38 Air Medals, eight with “V” device for valor, and two Bronze Star medals for his actions in combat.
He went on to serve as instructor pilot and standardization pilot at Fort Rucker for the UH-1.
While at Fort Rucker, he demonstrated all emergency procedures for a film to be presented to the House Armed Services Committee to determine the future of emergency procedure training. He was the subject matter expert for the initial draft of the UH-1 Aircrew Training Manual that was continually revised and used until the Army transitioned to the UH-60 Black Hawk. He also completed his Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical science, and made the commandant’s list for his high grade-point average while at the Warrant Office Advance Course.
While stationed at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, he developed the Annual Gunnery program for the 25th Division Air Cav Squadron, Attack Battalion, and Hawaii National Guard Air Troop. The program was so successful that it was used as a template for years and helped develop numerous gunnery programs Army-wide.
Again he returned to Fort Rucker, to serve with the Directorate of Evaluation and Standardization, Attack Observation Branch, including performing SP duties at the Army level in the AH-1 and UH-1.
While serving in Korea, Pruyne’s duties included serving as the primary pilot for then-Col. Ellis D. Parker, commander of Eighth Army Aviation Office, and he was responsible for all Army aviation training in the Republic of Korea. There, he served as AH-1 and UH-1 instructor and Night Vision Goggles instructor pilot. He was selected to serve as a subject matter expert for Parker to travel and participate in higher-level meetings that impacted the future of what is now the Army Aviation branch.
Pruyne served in the 24th Infantry Division as an standardization pilot and instrument examiner, and the Chief of Flight Standards, and as pilot in command for Gen. Maxwell Thurman, the then-TRADOC commander in the UH-60 Black Hawk. He was selected “below the zone” for the rank of CW4 which placed him in the top 3 percent of all eligible personnel.
He served as SP and IE in the OH-58 and TH-67, and closed out his career training aviators in the UH-72.
Of his many stints at the “Home of Army Aviation,” his time with DES stands out to him.
“I got to travel to all the military installations and try to pass on a little knowledge and expertise and stuff to all the various IPs and SPs that I’ve known throughout all the years. That’s probably the most rewarding thing for me,” Pruyne said.
He also enjoyed training aviators and aircrew members.
“Just the satisfaction of seeing them, from one day they know nothing about a helicopter, to three or four weeks later they’re learning to hover it and fly. And then of course over the years you see them come back.
There are many of these guys here that I’m with now that I gave them their check rides, and they’re all W4s and retired and GS-13’s now. I go out to Lowe or Cairns or wherever and I see people I’ve known for 30 or 40 years,” Pruyne said. “It’s a close community.”
With the award in hand, and looking back on his career, Pruyne said he would do it all again.
“Couldn’t ask for anything better. I’ve had the pleasure of working with a lot of really good people. The best of the best.”
He said he now looks forward to retirement and spending time with his son and grandchildren.
For Pruyne’s son Sean, who attended the ceremony along with his family, it was a proud moment to see his father receive the award.
“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” he said. “He never talks about what he has done in the military, he’s so humble. He’s been passionate about it."