USAACE Deputy Commanding General Update / By BG Benjamin F. Adams III: As the keys are passed for an issued aircraft between a flight operations specialist and a crew chief, there is a pause. The empty hook upon which those keys perched moments before now appears mutely beckoning for their return. Everything is on the counter, and the crew chief is asked to sign for survival radios, publications, and the keys.
Of all the accountable items, it is that one-inch ring with the aircraft keys that bears the baggage of the unasked, “Will you return them soon?” That question never really is audible within that pause, so much as understood; but it is there, nonetheless.
At the same place in every preflight inspection and pre-starting checks, one pilot or the other looks aft for the keys. From the crew chief’s pocket, the ring is extracted by a gloved hand, and passed to the cockpit; and in that moment – that pause – a question is echoed: “Will you get us there safely, Ma’am; will you complete our mission safely, Sir; and will I be home to my family when we’re done? You see, there’s a space in the flight ops key box I promised to fill.” The words are never actually uttered in that pause, but they’re there. And for every passenger who boards, there’s a pause. And, for every technical inspector opening a cowling to examine a mechanic’s work, there’s a pause.
As well, for every Soldier, service civilian, or contractor obliged to read and heed each Army Regulation and Technical Manual, the same pause echoes: “If I am trained to these procedures, and perform my mission to these standards, will I be able to play my part in returning those keys?” The passing of those keys, and each station of their journey, entails a trust. It’s the same trust the American public expects as they write their tax checks, and send their elected officials to represent them. It’s a trust based on a single, Army Aviation standard, tied to a single line in the Constitution, “To provide for the common defense.”
Components within the Army are designed to be fraternal, each subservient to the needs of the Army in the provision for – and execution of – the common defense. And as the keys for each Army Aviation asset are allocated, each Soldier on the flight line trusts that these assets are apportioned and stationed to best deliver on that overarching promise.
Underpinned by a single Army Aviation standard, no instructor pilot at Fort Rucker ever asked their student, “Am I training you to a National Guard standard?”, or “Do I add the sixty point Army Reserve handicap to your final check-ride score?” Nor has a single Fort Rucker flight student ever questioned the Army Component bona fides of their instructor pilot. When black leather nameplates were worn, the sole authorized entry stamped into the right side of the last line was always, “U.S. ARMY.” On the left side of the uniform chest adorning every Soldier in an A2CU flight suit, the sole authorized entry has always been “U.S. ARMY”. This declaration of the branch of our Armed Services denotes a singularity of purpose.
Boiled down to its essential elements, the Component to which any given aircraft or Aviation Soldier is assigned matters about as much as the brand of fuel in the tank, or the name vulcanized into the side of the tire alighting to the Maltese cross. To the family huddled on their rooftop, surrounded by catastrophic floodwaters, all that matters is the brand on the tail boom: UNITED STATES ARMY. To the Special Forces Soldier clinging to life from his combat wounds, no query is made as to the Component from which the medical aid was dispatched – the bona fides are embroidered in the nameplate of his medic: U.S. ARMY.
Fraternal rivalries have always existed, with units across the tarmac from one another vying for post prestige. Senators and Congressmen will posture for more flags on the posts and armories in their districts and Governors will always seek more, bigger, and better aircraft with which to also respond to natural disasters in their states. But when the sights are backed-out a field or two, it is that provisional focus for the common defense, and the holistic role of Army Aviation within that mission, that becomes crystal clear. We are, after all, Above the Best; and there is still a space awaiting the keys.
BG Benjamin F. Adams III is the Deputy Commanding General – Army National Guard, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker, AL; and Director of the Joint Staff, Kentucky National Guard, Frankfort, KY.
Publisher’s Note: The branch chief, MG Michael Lundy, has asked his deputy commanding general, BG Benjamin F. Adams lll, to provide this article.