By Mollie MillerMay 2, 2008
With the "sounds of freedom" echoing through the skies above Fort Rucker's Howze Field Friday, retired Maj. Gen. Carl H. McNair, Jr. gazed at the helicopters passing overhead and, for a moment, it was 1955 and he was a brand new lieutenant reporting for flight training.
"What a joy to see the fly by and hear the sounds of freedom," the 73-year-old former Army Aviation Branch Chief said. "I am overwhelmed by the power and the might of this great Branch."
McNair, who served as the first Army Aviation Branch chief in 1983, joined dozens of past and present members of the Army Aviation Family at Fort Rucker last week to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Branch's creation.
"To all of you former branch chiefs, former command sergeants major and former chief warrant officers of the branch who are here, thanks for your leadership, thanks for getting us to this silver anniversary, thanks for carrying the load for Army Aviation and for our country as well," Maj. Gen. Virgil L. Packett II, United States Army Aviation Warfighting Center and Fort Rucker commanding general, said as he welcomed his Aviation brothers and sisters to the celebration.
The three-day anniversary celebration included a golf scramble at Silver Wings Golf Course, a ball attended by nearly 700 people at Aviators' Landing, senior leader discussion panels and a Salute to the Branch ceremony. The Salute to the Branch included a fly over by aircraft including the OH-58C Kiowa and the UH-1 Huey. The celebration concluded Saturday at Lake Tholocco with the Thunder on Tholocco drag boat races.
Several special guests were in attendance during various celebration events including Army aviator and astronaut, retired Col. Patrick Forrester, Congressman Terry Everett, R-Rehobeth, and Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard A. Cody, who served as the keynote speaker at the April 24 Army Aviation Anniversary Ball.
During his remarks, Cody said several things have been constant during the past 25 years of Army Aviation - good Soldiers, good Families, good neighbors and a drive to "slip the bonds" of earth and, in doing so, make the world a safer place.
"The home of Army Aviation could not have better neighbors," Cody said of the Wiregrass community. "This community has known some difficult times ... and through it all you have been with our Soldiers and our Families ... and I want to thank you."
Cody offered his thanks to the Families of the Branch's Soldiers.
"There are no parades for Army spouses who endure 15 months of daily anxiety with quiet determination. There are no medals for our Army sons and daughters who share their moms and dads with America. But I want to tell you all that you deserve more than we can give you and you have truly earned the respect of not just the Army's leadership but all of America," he said.
Finally, Cody expressed his pride in the generations of Aviation Soldiers who have made the Branch one of the Army's finest.
"Ultimately, this anniversary is about people, the pilots, the maintainers and the instructors here tonight, those who came before you and raised you in this Branch and those who will follow after you (on a path) smoothed by your experience and determination to take this Branch to even greater heights," he said.
Cody said Army Aviation has grown incredibly in the past 25 years, spurred by a commitment to excellence.
"Our commitment to the Soldier on the ground has pushed us to create leaders, to mentor and have the ability to be self-critical, almost brutally honest, in how we assess ourselves, our peers and our Branch," Cody said. "In our profession, good enough is a no go."
Cody said during the past 25 years, Army Aviation has transformed not only into a successful branch but into a tight Family.
"The beauty of the Aviation Family is that we are small and sometimes we fight like cats and dogs to make each other and this Branch better, but we love and trust each other and we love this Army. We love the Soldiers we serve, and when you have commitment like that, each generation just gets better and better," Cody said. "Why we fly, who we fly for, has pushed this Branch to be the best."
As he closed his remarks Friday during the Salute to the Branch ceremony, McNair expressed his pride in the Soldiers of the Aviation Branch and reminded those gathered for the celebration of their enduring responsibility to the people of the United States.
"We are on a journey and that journey will never be complete until our world is free of tyranny and our nation does not have to go into harms way," McNair said. "That did not happen on my watch and, I fear, it will not happen on yours. The Bible says, 'there will always be war and stories of wars.' Therefore, your mission is not done. Take your ... duties seriously and give your all like those who have gone before have given their all."
Cody, who will retire this summer, said he is certain the foundations set by the Branch's Soldiers for the past 25 years will be built upon by innovative and passionate Army Aviation Soldiers for many years to come.
"I have great faith this Branch will continue on and, 25 years from now, there will be other people (celebrating the 50th anniversary) and they will be talking about the last 25 years and I anticipate, as I look forward, those years will be better than first 25 years," he said. "That has to be our legacy - we must get better every day."