FORT RUCKER, Ala. (October 20, 2011) -- Monday was a day of firsts at Fort Rucker.

For the home of Army Aviation, it was a first-ever visit from a chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee.

Chairman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, R-California, observed various aspects of ongoing Soldier training throughout the day, and talked with U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker leadership and Soldiers.

And for the chairman, it was the first time he realized that all Army pilots, as well as rotary wing pilots of some sister services and international students, train here.

"Very few Americans have a clue about what happens at Fort Rucker. There are a lot of detailed things that (Soldiers) learn here, and when we talk about cuts to the military, those are the types of things that we have to make sure we protect," McKeon said.

McKeon said the country needs a clearer picture of the importance Fort Rucker has within the Army mission. More members of the committee need to visit Fort Rucker to see the training firsthand, McKeon said.

The House Armed Services Committee is responsible for the funding and oversight of the Department of Defense and U.S. military, as well as substantial portions of the Department of Energy.

The day tour, led by Maj. Gen. Anthony G. Crutchfield, commanding general of the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, included a stop at Allen Stage Field where students flying TH-67s practiced auto-rotations as part of their Initial Entry Rotary Wing training.

At the Helicopter Overwater Survival Training facility, commonly referred to as "dunker training," McKeon observed students learning survival maneuvers in an indoor pool.

McKeon visited the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training site, and simulations training at Warrior Hall. He also had the chance to talk with Soldiers during lunch at the dining facility.

Crutchfield said the visit was important for Fort Rucker.

"Simply put, this visit is huge. One of my imperatives is to significantly increase the relationships with local, regional and national communities. This (visit) is doing just that with the national community," he said.

The general added that Fort Rucker is essential to the battlefield.

"We [the Army] could not do the mission without Army Aviation, and commanders want more. Unfortunately we don't have any more to give right now, but we're going to try our best to give them what they need to fight this war. Army Aviation is carrying a large share of the burden for the Army, which is carrying a large share of burden for the nation," Crutchfield said.

With more helicopters deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan today than we had at the height of the surge in 2008, the bottom line is Army Aviation is the most demanded enabler in Afghanistan and Iraq today, he added.

Sgt. 1st Class Justin Gallaher, who participated in training at the HOST facility during McKeon's visit, said the training at Fort Rucker is why Soldiers survive in actual situations.

"It is critical. Everybody that actually survives these types of situations always credits it back to the time when they did training like this as to why they survived. If your job is going to put you in a real-world situation, then definitely any kind of live training in an environment that's going to put you close to that is very important," Gallaher said. "To save a life -- it's hard to put a dollar amount on that."