FORT NOVOSEL, AL, UNITED STATES
Story by Kelly Morris
U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence
FORT NOVOSEL, Ala. — It is said that students are often just one encouraging instructor away from being a success story.
For many Chinook pilots over the past 20 years, that instructor was Department of the Army Civilian Charles Mineo, a retired chief warrant officer 4 who served during Desert Storm.
Upon his recent flight in the Chinook marking his 10,000th incident-free flying hour, the well-known instructor pilot at Knox Army Heliport, who is often described as “unorthodox” in his methods, stepped away from the flight line after 19 years of heartfelt teaching and mentoring.
Among the crowd watching as Mineo’s aircraft landed that final time at Knox Army Heliport and steered the helicopter under the ceremonial arc of water spraying from two fire trucks Dec. 8, was Capt. Andrew Givens, commander of Company B, 1st Battalion, 223d Aviation Regiment, a former student of Mineo’s.
“He’s extremely dedicated to his profession. His life is training people how to fly and working with different personalities. He takes strangers and makes them family,” Givens said.
During his own training lessons with Mineo a few years ago, Givens recalled he felt he was being pushed to the point of frustration, and then he would have a breakthrough moment where he sincerely appreciated what he learned.
“He puts people in hard situations because he knows they can handle it and then they’ll be better for it. I don’t think I would have learned as much from somebody that wouldn’t have put me through those uncomfortable situations that humbled me and forced me to think outside the box. Guys like Chuck are actually making a difference in these students’ lives to get them to learn and grow as aviators,” he said. “It’s sad to see him go.”
Givens also recalled Mineo going above and beyond in taking care of Soldiers. When Givens got married on a holiday weekend during the goggle phase of his tactics training back in 2018, Mineo presented him with a card and monetary gift so he could to take his wife someplace nice.
“He puts everything he has into his students,” said Givens, who recalled a quote from the retirement ceremony: “’Love, kindness and patience, the more you give, the more you get’. That’s really how he approaches training as well. He does everything he can to make you feel like one of his. He has a very deep connection with all of his students, and a very lasting effect on people,” he said.
Looking back on 45 years of combined federal service, Mineo said he saw early in his military career the impact an instructor can have, while serving as an enlisted survival instructor in the U.S. Air Force.
Two Air Force pilots had gotten into clouds during a routine training flight in Texas, were inverted, and had to eject from the aircraft. Mineo, who was in Washington at the time, got a phone call from one of them.
“I heard your voice while I was coming down in the parachute,” one pilot said, recalling complete sentences from the training he received from Mineo.
“That inspired me,” Mineo said. “That fired me up — I’m not wasting my words, because when it’s needed — and if only one guy needed that, it worked. Survival for me was the basis of forming my military mind, I would say, and my behavioral interactions with people.”
Long before that, he had already settled on his approach to working with people.
“All my mentors have always encouraged me,” he said, reflecting back on how their family doctor encouraged him when he studied premed in college for a few years.
“You have a decision to make at every juncture, at every moment, like right now — do we encourage or do we discourage? We like to think we encourage, but it all depends on what you’re protecting. If you’ve got to protect something, maybe you discourage somebody else.”
In training Chinook aviators, sometimes all it takes is finding “which screw needs to be turned,” he said.
It has everything to do with a keen instructor who creates a climate where ethe student takes ownership of the lesson material.
Mineo recalled a time as an instructor pilot when he was briefed that a particular student he was to fly with could not do autorotation maneuvers. The student was about to get this third ’Unsatisfactory’. Mineo pulled the throttle back, simulated engine failure in the OH-58 A/C Kiowa, and pretended not to be very good at the maneuver himself, which motivated the previously-unsuccessful student.
“He greased that sucker on. That young man did autos that were A maneuvers all day long,” Mineo said. “I learned a big lesson about myself that day. When my student feels a shared responsibility in the outcome, you get success. I laid his grade folder on his platoon leader’s desk and said, ‘This guy’s an A student.’”
“People call me a little unorthodox with some things, and I hate that word, but it’s kind of a Montessori thing, we all have a way that we have to learn,” he said.
What it boils down to is Mineo believes in people.
“When you believe in people it is a contagious and self-perpetuating condition. It’s got to be that way,” he said.
Mineo said the leader’s focus should be on their replacement.
“When I inbrief with my new guys and do my mentoring with them, I tell them you’ve got to realize you’re building credential while you’re doing this, but it’s not about you. It’s about the credential you’re aiding your understudy to build. You’re mentoring that person to create their own credential and therefore they get confidence in doing what they’re doing,” he said.
He said he decided to live vicariously through the success of his students.
“I want to see them succeed. When my students have a good day, I have a grand day. I mean, I’m on top of the clouds. When my students have a bad day, it’s a bad day for me. It’s not a day for me to lash out, it’s a day for me to go, what card did I not pull out of my sleeve to make this happen and how can I made that person better,” he said.
He operates on the premise that the student can do no wrong.
“I tell my wife the same thing, and when I complain about something I need you to remind me of that. She’s somebody’s daughter, she’s somebody’s mother, she’s somebody’s aunt. Everybody I fly with is the same thing,” he said. “The only thing you can do is not comply with what I ask you to do. That’s not good. But in the cockpit if you make a mistake it’s because I allowed you to do it.”
It sets the tone in the cockpit for the student to have the freedom to express themselves, he added.
Reflecting back on his active duty career, Mineo said the reason he initially joined the Army, after 8 years in the Air Force, was the influence of some Huey pilots from the 112th Aviation out of Bangor, Maine. They had helped provide live hoist recovery training opportunities for his survival training program, and one day they gave him an orientation flight and told him they needed resourceful people like him in the Army.
“When someone has a can-do attitude I gravitate toward that and I’m enamored with that,” he said. “They encouraged me with an incentive flight, and I made a decision that changed my life. I initially wanted to be an F-15 pilot for the Air Force, but I would have been too old for that. When your plan fails, it’s best to go with God. That seems to work pretty well for me. But it’s God’s plan.”
That plan would place him on a path to keep him coming back to the Home of Army Aviation.
In the mid-1980s he trained to become a warrant officer aviator at then-Fort Rucker to fly the UH-1H Huey, and after graduating he was assigned to 5-158th Aviation Regiment, 12th Aviation Brigade, V Corps.
After deploying during in support of “Task Force Warrior” during Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1990-1991, he would return to Germany, and soon was on his way back to Fort Rucker in the early 1990s to serve as a UH-1H Instructor pilot at 1-212th Aviation Regiment.
A few years later he earned his bachelor’s degree and completed the CH-47D transition. He served in South Korea and returned to Fort Rucker to serve as an OH58 A/C IP and standardizations officer for 1-212th Aviation. He returned for a second tour in Korea where he retired from active duty as a chief warrant officer four after 26 years.
Among his awards were the Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medals, Air Medal, and Air Force Commendation Medal. He is also qualified in the TH-55.
Mineo returned to Fort Rucker to focus on flight school students as a DA civilian instructor pilot at Fort Novosel in 2004 and continued until December 2023, when he finally decided he would call it quits when he reached his 10,000th flying hour.
That day was December 8. His co-pilot was his son, Lt. Robert Mineo, a former Army aviator who served 8 years in the Army and currently serves in the U.S. Coast Guard at the Aviation Training Center in Mobile, and pilots the MH-65 Dolphin helicopter.
Chuck recalled his son saying to him, “’Well, you know dad, if you don’t have 10,000 hours of doing something you’re not a master’. That’s why we’re here right now,” he said.
When Robert came through flight school, Chuck was able to be his IP for his first flight in the Chinook back in 2007. Traditionally on the student’s first demonstration flight, called the ‘nickel ride’, the student presents a nickel with his birth year on it to ‘pay’ for the ride.
“It was his give-him-his-nickel-back ride today,” Chuck said, with a smile.
“It’s just an incredible opportunity to fly with your dad,” Robert said. “The command here was fantastic about finding a way we could make it work.”
“It’s always been nice to have a lifeline back to Army aviation. Coming back here feels like home, so many familiar faces, so many people I’ve flown with that he’s flown with over the years. They’ve been able to tell me the fun stories about him. Everybody has a good Chuck story, and it’s awesome.”
Chuck noted, “I have guys here who were my crew chiefs in Germany who babysat Rob.”
Being in the cockpit with his son again for the final flight felt “easy,” Chuck said.
“He’s always been one who listens and articulates well. It’s a reminder that we train the trainer,” he said.
Robert said the Army helped mold him as a leader.
“There’s no camaraderie like you’ll find in the Army,” Robert said. “The Army has a cool way of putting you in some more austere training environments and conditions that creates I think just a deeper seeded bond. I love not just the air assault capability of the Chinook, but it’s a workhorse. Your maintainers, flight engineers and crew chiefs are some of the hardest working people.
“The Army’s leadership style of raising you as a young second lieutenant is always pairing you up with an NCO to train you because you know some things but you really don’t know a lot of things,” Robert said. “Just learning people, learning how to lead … A lot of people will work as hard for you as you work for them.”
Growing up having an active-duty Army aviator dad, Robert said he remembered being at Fort Rucker as a child and being upset that he couldn’t take the TH-55 home with him after attending ‘family day’ at the airfield. While they were in Germany, he saw the pictures of his dad flying near the Leaning Tower of Pisa and flying through the Alps. Chuck would take Rob into the simulator on the weekend, and at 7 years old Rob couldn’t reach the pedals but he could fly an instrument approach.
Robert’s last duty assignment in the Army, he served as a Chinook company commander with 1st Infantry Division in Afghanistan in 2015-2016.
“I have watched the metamorphosis of the little boy becoming a man and then becoming a battle experienced man, and then watching the confidence changes. Those were all going through my head today,” Chuck said.
Rob said it was great to watch his dad in his element again.
“He is an Army Aviation legend.”