FORT KNOX, Ky. — Like a seasoned college football coach, Brig. Gen. Roger Deon sits across a table with Army ROTC Cadet Brandie Madden — mapping out a game plan. He scrawls red lines to connect circles of information, sketching out conditions for his new five-star recruit.
Madden is locked in, following the general as he pores over the scrap sheet, flipping it over to find more space to draw.
“You can get to here, but it would take another general’s signature, your National Guard commander, to release you,” Deon says, providing some hard news to the cadet. She’s stuck in her contract, signed from when she began her studies with the University of Louisville’s Army ROTC program.
“They got you for $10,000,” Deon says. Madden smiles with a sigh, thanks Deon and returns to her Cardinal Battalion cadet class in the next room.
For Deon, it’s a missed opportunity. Not just for his unit, but for the young cadet. As the commanding general of the Army Reserve Aviation Command at Fort Knox, Kentucky, Deon could nearly guarantee Madden a slot at flight school — contingent on her passing her physical and flight tests. Afterward, she could jump in any one of 52 aircraft at Fort Knox, the largest Reserve contingent in the nation.
“Each school can fill one, maybe two active component flight spots each year,” Deon says. “I can fill far more flight school slots in the Reserve, and they’re going to receive the same training, same hours.”
While nearly every service branch faces a recruiting dilemma, Deon is ensuring his units take a pro-active and direct approach.
Last Friday, it was a speech to the cadets in front of a static display of a UH-60 Black Hawk in the Thunderbolt Hangar. The next morning, he walked through the brush with cadets to await pick-up from helicopters from the local 244th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade. He followed up with a speech in the field to Western Kentucky University cadets. The aviation units participated by holding a scheduled Q&A between WKU and flight crews, to include a flight nurse and medic.
They all hope to send the same message: you don’t have to be in the active component Army to fly.
“Every ROTC cadet will make a decision about the Army Reserve three times during their career,” Deon said. “First, when they’re signing up for ROTC. They might already know they want a civilian career, or to stay close to home. Second, when they’re graduating from school and choosing their branch.
“And finally — if they chose to go [regular Army] — when they’ve reached their service obligation and decide if they want to get out, they can continue their military service, maybe even come fly with us.”
As the Army attempts to reinvigorate its recruiting — which fell short by nearly 25% of its goal of 60,000 new recruits in 2022 — the ARAC focuses on its own unique goals.
Since pilots across the Reserve maintain the same number of flight hours (120 per year) as their active counterparts, they’re required to complete hours during the month, and not just when on battle assembly — commonly referred to as “drill weekends.”
They’ll need to be within driving distance — referred to colloquially as the “Golden Hour” by many pilots — in order to fulfill the flight time.
“I’m very proactive, I’m ready to fly at just about any time — they call me a ‘stick pig,’” says Chief Warrant Officer 2 Maggie Eveland, who left her home in Lexington at 3 a.m. to make the 2-hour drive and fly cadets Saturday morning. “For me, it’s a passion and my priority.”
“For the enlisted side, there’s difficulty to cover the costs without increased incentive pay, also the need for barracks or a place to stay,’” Eveland continued. “You can only have a 14-hour duty day, and if you live 2 hours away, that really is a limiting factor.”
A Black Hawk mechanic serving as crew chief who fulfills their active obligation and seeks to continue military service might not want to transplant their family just to work a part-time job. The same can be said for flight medics and CH-47 Chinook mechanics, all enlisted positions unique to aviation units.
It’s why Deon focuses concentration on the local schools and civilian sectors in the golden hour of the 14 Reserve aviation locations in 12 states — stretching from Florida to Washington.
He’s purposely made himself and his Soldiers present for visits from youth organizations and high schools, and pushed static aircraft displays and recruiting personnel to events like the upcoming “Thunder Over Louisville” — an annual air show that will draw roughly 500,000 visitors to within an hour of Fort Knox.
He wants every viable recruit to know they can stay near their hometown, serve in the Army and maintain a successful civilian profession — something he’s been able to accomplish over his 37 years in the service.
“I was broke as a college student. I joined ROTC and signeda [Guaranteed Reserve Forces Duty] to pay for school,” Deon says. “Since then, I’ve been able to keep my long career mostly right here at Fort Knox.”