Guard Helicopter Crew Awarded for Saving 6 Lives

Sometimes even first responders can get caught up in the same dangerous predicament as the people they’re trying to help, especially during flash floods.

Four members of the Louisiana Army National Guard were honored last month by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) Enforcement Division for their aerial rescue of six people, including the LDWF’s SGT Rusty Perry and Winn Parish Firefighter Buddy King. The men’s boat capsized as they tried to evacuate people from a flooded area in Winnfield, La., on March 10, 2016.

The Guardsmen, CW5 Jack Mucha, CW2 Corey Sayer, SSG Chad McCann and SGT Aaron Adam, all members of the Bayou 69 Black Hawk Helicopter crew, were awarded the Citizens Exceptional Bravery Awards for their efforts.

When Perry and King could not be reached by other vessels or high water vehicles, the Black Hawk crew performed an aerial rescue in a less than ideal spot that required precision hover work, as told by the crew in the video below:

“There was probably only about 10 feet between the power lines and the edge of the trees,” said SSG McCann, whose job it was to lower SGT Adam down to the stranded men. Adding to the pressure was the fact that no one knew whether the power lines were still active, said Pilot CW5 Mucha.

“It was a nail biter for sure,” said CW5 Mucha, whose mind was also on the mission he and the rest of Bayou 69 were originally scheduled to be doing that day – a flyover of a memorial honoring the MOJO 69 crew – four fellow Louisiana Guardsmen and seven Marines – who had been killed in a helicopter crash on March 10 one year prior.

“We did not want to be accident No. 2,” he said.

It was also a close call for Perry and King, who needed immediate medical attention after being stuck in cold water for a few hours, according to COL John Plunkett, who is now Bayou 69’s commanding officer.

At the awards ceremony last month, “The one individual said that he was actually hypothermic, and close to not being able to hold on to the item he was holding on to,” said COL Plunkett. “[The Guardsmen] were pretty much their last hope for getting those guys out of there.”

After safely retrieving the two men, the crew then returned to the area to rescue the two people Perry and King were trying to help, plus two other stranded first responders.

CW5 Mucha said the only comparable mission he could think of was the hoist work and rescues he had done during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“The most rewarding mission you can do is doing Medevac, and saving lives in combat and here in the State,” said CW5 Mucha, who has been a pilot since 1980. Mucha said most of his Medevac missions have been along the coastline, “so it was nice to help some people in our local area.”

So if you’re looking for a job with a mission, the Army National Guard offers 130 career choices, and not just in aviation. Check out our job board for more information on careers in administration, military police, infantry, mechanics and maintenance, logistics support, and more. For a complete rundown of the benefits of joining the Guard, contact your local recruiter.

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High Flying Career Starts with the Need for an Education

SGT Tom Harrington, a crew chief with B Co., 2-147th Assault Helicopter Battalion, waves to B Co. (Battlehard) and D Co. (Wolfpack), 3-187th Infantry Regiment, Soldiers to approach the UH-60 Blackhawk to kick-off an air assault exercise at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, January 7, 2015. (Minnesota Army National Guard photo by SPC Jess Nemec/Released)"

SGT Tom Harrington, a crew chief with B Co., 2-147th Assault Helicopter Battalion, waves to B Co. (Battlehard) and D Co. (Wolfpack), 3-187th Infantry Regiment, Soldiers to approach the UH-60 Black Hawk to kick-off an air assault exercise at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, January 7, 2015. (Minnesota Army National Guard photo by SPC Jess Nemec/Released)”

Working his way through college wasn’t working out so great for Tom Harrington as the U.S. economy started to crash in 2008.

The Lexington, Ky., native needed a better way to pay for school. He had considered other branches of the Armed Services, but found that joining the Army National Guard offered several advantages. He could serve part-time near the college he was going to attend, the Guard had openings available in the Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) he wanted to pursue, plus this particular MOS made him eligible for the GI Bill Kicker, which meant a little extra money could be put toward earning his degree in aerospace management.

Now a sergeant with the Kentucky National Guard, Harrington is a 15T UH-60 Utility Helicopter Repairer. The UH-60 is better known as the Black Hawk, which is the Army’s most versatile helicopter. It is used in combat situations, search and rescue operations, firefighting, and transportation of people and supplies.

Sgt Tom Harrington keeps his eyes on a wildfire to release water from a Bambi bucket attached to a UH-60 Blackhawk in southeastern Kentucky, Nov. 5, 2016. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Robert Brumfield)

SGT Tom Harrington keeps his eyes on a wildfire to release water from a Bambi bucket attached to a UH-60 Black Hawk in southeastern Kentucky, Nov. 5, 2016. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Robert Brumfield)

Not only does SGT Harrington repair and maintain the helicopters, he gets to fly on them as well.

“Black Hawks also give you the option, as a 15T to fly and become a crew chief, and that’s what I wanted to do,” he explains.

As a crew chief, SGT Harrington takes care of anything that is transported by the helicopter, from passengers to freight. During a wildfire in his State in November, that meant filling the “Bambi buckets” that attach to the helicopters with water and dousing hot spots. SGT Harrington also documented his Unit’s response to the fires with his camera. He has an additional duty in the Guard to serve as Unit Public Affairs Historian.

SGT Harrington appreciates the variety his MOS affords: “Everything’s different every day, and I’ve been able to do a lot of different things.”

A self-described “proverbial car guy and gear head,” there’s always something to fix in his role as a mechanic. As a crew chief, he’s been a part of counterdrug missions and, during the recent fires in Kentucky, “doing whatever we could to save homes and property. That was a really fulfilling mission.”

Another assignment SGT Harrington is proud of was a deployment to Kosovo in 2009 and 2010. This UN peacekeeping mission gave him the chance to see how everything he learned in AIT (Advanced Individual Training) fit into the big picture in a deployment. His duties included troop transport, VIP operations, and cargo hauls.

“It was a cool cultural experience. I didn’t think at 22, I’d be sitting in Kosovo, former Yugoslavia, working with Germans, Italians, Croatians, Slovenians, Swedish, just to name a few.”

As he looks back on his decision to join the Guard at age 20, he sees how his experiences contributed to his personal growth.

“Going to Basic [Training], going to AIT, coming back, that all gave me a different perspective. Getting deployed and learning how to work with so many different people, so many different cultures, that definitely made me grow as a person.”

His Guard experience also helped him with his full-time career as a civilian contractor who works as a crew chief on Black Hawks for the Federal Government.

“The Guard set me up with a fantastic opportunity for civilian employment and it all, pretty much, directly translates.”

In fact, he credits the Guard for giving him a leg up on becoming eligible to take the test for an Airframe and Powerplant license through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that will allow him to advance in his civilian job.

“There would have been no way I could have had the opportunity to go take the test and do it without the Guard.”

So, if you’re interested in finding out how the Guard can help you with a career, visit our job board, which lists vacancies that can be searched by MOS, job family, keyword or location, or contact a recruiter today who can explain the Guard’s benefits like money for college and low-cost health insurance.

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Soldier Finds Careers Take Flight When You Put in Time and Effort

Michael Parkins had always had an interest in aviation, but he considered a career as a pilot “kind of more of a dream, not something that was necessarily attainable.”

But Parkins found that once he put in the time and the effort, he could become a helicopter pilot no matter what roadblocks he encountered. Parkins, 27, is a Warrant Officer with the Wyoming Army National Guard, and as of February 2016, a freshly graduated Black Hawk pilot.

Before he could get his hands on flight instruments, WO1 Parkins was more of an expert in instruments of the musical variety – as in the trumpet and piano. The Cheyenne, Wyo. native joined the Guard six years ago as a 42R Army Band member while he was in college pursuing a music education degree. 

WO1 Parkins credits both his college and his Guard experience in giving him the confidence and perseverance to pursue both his part-time Guard career in aviation and his new full-time civilian career as a police officer.

“Between my experience in the Guard and in music education, having to stand up and teach, both of those have helped me a lot with my leadership experience and just my drive and determination in general.”

WO1 Parkins was initially turned down for a flight slot the first time he applied. Part of the problem was he was on a voluntary deployment overseas in Bahrain and had nowhere to take a Selection Instrument for Flight Training (SIFT) test, one of the requirements necessary for his application. Luckily, another slot opened up in Wyoming soon after, and he got it.

WO1 Parkins spent 15 months in flight school, followed by more training to improve his readiness levels in piloting the Black Hawk, considered to be the military’s most versatile helicopter because it can be used for a variety of missions, including air assaults, medical evacuations, and sling load operations to carry a heavy item like a howitzer or a Humvee beneath the aircraft. It can be used during all types of weather conditions and is equipped with night vision capability.

WO1 Michael Parkins in the cockpit of an Army National Guard Black Hawk helicopter.

WO1 Michael Parkins in the cockpit of an Army National Guard Black Hawk helicopter.

Earlier this month, WO1 Parkins was on medevac standby for a fire in the northwestern part of the State. While he did not perform an actual rescue, it was his first service mission as a helicopter pilot. Because Wyoming, like many western States has a drier climate, WO1 Parkins expects to be called upon during a wildfire again.

“A lot of Units just constantly train and sometimes never get to do their job, but that’s not the case for us,” says WO1 Parkins. “We frequently get chances to perform our job, which I think is pretty awesome. 

One of the Guard’s primary missions is to serve the community, especially in emergency situations like natural disasters.

“We don’t necessarily have to be deployed overseas to do our mission,” says WO1 Parkins. “We can get called up to move sandbags, to help do search and rescue missions, medevac standby, firefighting. There are all sorts of opportunities that we have to save lives not only overseas, but here stateside, on a regular basis.”

He also appreciates the flexibility of being able to serve in the Guard part-time to do a mission “that helps people out but still get to pick what I want to do as a full-time career that could be something completely different.”

So if your interests are as wide-ranging as WO1 Parkins’ are, the Guard is sure to have a career that suits you. There are more than 150 fields to choose from. Learn more about them on our job board or contact a recruiter today.


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