FORT RUCKER, Ala. — The U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence welcomed more than 200 current and legacy Army aviation leaders to Fort Rucker to hear from senior leaders and foster discussion about Aviation warfighting issues at the Aviation Senior Leader Forum Jan. 24-26, 2023.
With its central theme, “The 40th Anniversary of the Aviation Branch: Honoring the Past and Transforming for the Future,” the event included three days of guest speakers, panel and breakout sessions focused on current and future operations, training and leader development.
Event host Maj. Gen. Michael C. McCurry, USAACE and Fort Rucker commanding general, welcomed attendees, and recognized the Vietnam veterans in the audience, noting the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Paris Peace Accords that ended the Vietnam War Jan. 27.
Army Aviation, known for its sacred trust with commanders and Soldiers on the ground, became its own branch and a “separate combat arm” forty years ago, he said.
McCurry encouraged current leaders to seek out and dialogue with former branch chiefs and aviation general officers in the room.
“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes,” he said. “When I talk with people like (retired Major General) Hennies over here about some of the things we’re watching coming off a twenty-year conflict, largely counterinsurgency based, and transitioning back into Large Scale Combat Operations, and trying to kind of re-imagine the force, there are some similar challenges.”
“The biggest thing you have to do this week is interact,” McCurry said. “We stand on the shoulders of giants, and some of them are right here this week. You can’t let this opportunity pass.”
The Aviation branch chief said he feels invested in aviation as an Army aviator himself, both as the son and son-in-law of Army aviators, and as the father of an Army aviator, armor officer, and a paratrooper.
McCurry said Aviation’s bottom line is it increases the lethality and survivability of the whole combined arms team, and its core competencies include “see, strike, move, and extend.” Aviation must be able to find and strike the enemy; move people, supplies, casualties; and find ways to extend mission command.
“As we look at creating temporary bubbles of dominance out there on the battlefield, we’re now looking at different opportunities to extend our network into denied areas,” he said.
McCurry pointed out significant milestones in aviation history, noting that approximately every 40 years aviation undergoes significant transformation.
“How we get to the next evolution of human-machine interface and teaming will be critical,” he said.
McCurry described a 2022 update to Army Field Manual 3-0: Operations, as “exceedingly favorable to Army aviation.”
The multi-domain operational doctrine of the future foresees the capability to “dominate a domain from somewhere else,” and Army aviation operates effectively in that lower tier of the air domain “at the nexus of land, air and maritime,” he said.
“We do have the ability to be decisive in that space,” he said.
McCurry said Fort Rucker now has unit training evaluators that can take on some of the tasks that previously required an instructor pilot to evaluate, to free up the IP’s to focus more on tactics, he said.
The Aviation Center is also starting up an Aviation Tactics Instructor course to focus on tactical employment of the systems, he said.
McCurry discussed the Aviation branch priorities of placing people first, conducting training focused on Large Scale Combat Operations and ongoing modernization efforts.
McCurry said he is focused on the warfighting culture.
“I believe that cohesion can be learned,” he said. “If you’ve been a part of a really tight unit, you know it, and it’s a lot easier to recreate that somewhere else because you know how to do it. If you’ve never been a part of a cohesive unit, or you were part of a fractured unit and that’s all you know, it’s very hard to gain cohesion.”
McCurry shared examples of Aviation heroes from the past, including Medal of Honor recipients.
Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, provided an overview of the National Guard.
In recent decades, the Guard transitioned from “weekend warriors” into an operational force, he said.
“(Sept. 11, 2001) really marked the end of the time when the National Guard was a strategic reserve,” he said.
The Army Guard has aviation capabilities in all 50 states, three territories and Washington, D.C.
Lt. Gen. Milford H. Beagle, Jr., U.S. Army Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth commanding general, shared some of his leader observations in his update from the Combined Arms Center.
“Combat aviation brigades and DIVARTYs will be the decisive formations in Large Scale Combat Operations,” Beagle said.
He called for a deeper understanding of the threat, and encouraged the force to take advantage of doctrine resources such as the FM 3-0 audio book.
Lt. Gen. John R. Evans, Jr., commander of U.S. Army North (Fifth Army) and senior commander of Fort Sam Houston and Camp Bullis, said the advantage the U.S. enjoyed in the past in its ability to have equipment and technology that far exceeded near-peer adversaries has now diminished.
“We still own primacy with regards to leadership,” he said. This involves being “a force with will,” having a professional noncommissioned officer corps, and people who volunteer and possess the desire to defend the nation.
Evans said potential future threats to the homeland include in the cyber domain and information space. He expects any future attack on the homeland to be disguised as something else.
“We’re going to be at the greatest threat level in the homeland that we’ve ever faced in the last 120 years,” he said.
Command Sgt. Maj. James D. Wilson, aviation branch command sergeant major, provided an enlisted update, highlighting the Aviation Maintenance Training Program which helps ensure Aviation maintainer proficiency.
“Commanders, you’ve got to make the AMTP a priority,” he said. “This is foundational for us to transform the branch and prepare us for the future.”
The event’s guest speakers represented the Department of the Army, National Guard Bureau, Army Futures Command, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, U.S. Army Combined Arms Center, U.S. Army North (Fifth Army), 18th Airborne Corps, U.S. Army Human Resources Command, U.S. Army Forces Command, 25th Infantry Division and the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center.
Leaders from around the Army Aviation enterprise represented Army active, Guard and Reserve components, and included the Future Vertical Lift Cross Functional Team, U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command, Program Executive Office-Aviation, Director of Army Aviation at the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff G-3/5/7, U.S. Army Special Operations Aviation Command, U.S. Army Reserve Aviation Command, as well as combat aviation brigade and combat training center leaders.
The USAACE also provided updates from the Aviation branch command chief warrant officer, Directorate of Evaluation and Standardization, and Directorate of Training and Doctrine.