Saying goodbye is sometimes hard, but at this farewell ceremony the mood was upbeat among the attendees reuniting one more time to bid adieu.
The National Training Center held a retirement ceremony Dec. 13 for several UH-1 Huey helicopters it had been using since 1980, and on hand to witness the occasion were command staff and military veterans. Those veterans looked on with pride at the aircraft, which became a United States Army aviation icon after seeing service over the highlands of Vietnam in the 1960s.
The UH-1 Huey came into production in 1960, and eventually more than 16,000 were built around the world. The U.S. Army used the workhorse in Vietnam beginning in May 1962, said Chief Warrant Officer 5 John Harris, a Huey instructor pilot with Aviation Company at the NTC. Harris said that in Vietnam, the UH-1 ultimately flew 15 million sorties while conducting troop transport, medical evacuations, emergency re-supplies, and armed attacks.
Hueys made their appearance at the NTC shortly after the training center was established. They have been part of the rotations conducted at the NTC for units training to fight Cold War adversaries and most recently, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Since 1980, these UH-1s have supported the training of thousands of Soldiers that have passed through the National Training Center on rotation preparing our nation's war fighters for their next mission," said Capt. Aaron Pluto, commander of B Company, 2916th Aviation Battalion, which housed some of the last active-duty Hueys.
Pluto said that the Huey provided general support and distinguished visitor support. The attack mission of the Huey at the NTC was unique: the Huey was an aviation element that became the most visible and feared air presence on the NTC training battlefield, Pluto said.
The three UH-1s retired that day were sent to be re-furbished at Ozark, Alabama and will be used by the Air Force. There remains only one active duty unit in U.S. Army Forces Command that has UH-1 helicopters.
The Huey proved to be a trendsetter of aviation service for the military. The Huey paved the way for Army aviation to progress from that of a secondary service support asset to the full-spectrum, force multiplier of combat arms that Army aviation is today, Harris said.
Harris spoke nostalgically of the rotor craft he has flown since the early 1970s in Vietnam.
"To those who rode her into combat, many of which are here today, the sound of those blades causes our hearts to beat and rise and our breaths to quicken, in anticipation of seeing that beautiful machine fly overhead and the feeling of comfort that she brings," Harris said.
"When a Huey flies over, everyone looks up and everyone knows who she is, young or old, all over the world, she connects with them all."