Top Gun for Helicopters

I wrote this article today to honor the bravest and most skilled aviators on the planet… the Night Stalkers of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR).  I recently had a chance to sit down and talk with one of them.

I’ve never seen a pilot place themself in harm’s way to protect the people on his aircraft like Dan Jollota did with his MH-60 in Somalia during the battle that became the movie Black Hawk Down.

I have been honored to work with some of the greatest warriors in history, and the special operations forces from across the various branches of the United States military have unparalleled skill and commitment. Their willingness to find a solution or sacrifice their life for our country has never ceased to amaze me.

I have seen military forces all over the earth. Few can hold a candle to the average warrior in the United States military. However, even among the most elite troops in other countries, I’ve never seen warriors who can do what the men and women of the Joint Special Operations Command can do—They are alone in their skill and willingness to sacrifice for our country and our way of life.

The best warriors chose the most dangerous missions

It seems entirely counterintuitive, but the greatest danger always attracts the most talented warriors on the battlefield.  Perhaps it’s because these warriors know that if they cannot accomplish the mission, no one can. Maybe they are attracted to the most dangerous operations because they understand the strategic importance of the mission.

Chances are, they’re attracted to this kind of fight because of the other guys and gals just like them who are already serving in these kinds of combat missions.

Winston Churchill observed this phenomenon firsthand during the Second World War. He noted, “Of all the branches of men in the forces, none shows more devotion and faces grimmer perils than the submariners.”   

This is the helicopter equivalent of Weapon’s School or Top Gun

Today’s US Military equivalent to Churchill’s submariners are the Night Stalkers!  No one braves more dangers and flies with more dedication to the mission than these brave men and women.

I was riding on the pods of a little bird when the pilot put an aircraft in a space that I was absolutely convinced it couldn’t land. I have been sitting in the doors of Black Hawks and seen the helicopter do things I didn’t think were mechanically or physically possible!

Virtually every military movie about the air war is identical. All of the attention and drama is focused on the pilots! It’s never about the aircraft. It’s always about the guy or gal in the pilot’s seat.  The US Army has no equivalent unit like the USAF weapons school or the USN Top Gun course. However, if there was such a program in the United States Army, virtually all the people from that program would eventually become Night Stalkers!

Greatness attracts greatness

I can boil the success of the Night Stalkers down to one essential ingredient: Greatness. Virtually all the pilots I have ever witnessed in combat are great aviators. And great aviators always attract other great aviators.

As a result, this unit becomes an eagle’s nest of the most talented pilots on the planet.

I have said to my family for years that if the Night Stalkers can’t get there or fly the mission, then it simply cannot be done. I trust no one in the cockpit of a helicopter more than I trust the Night Stalkers.

I chose to release this article on the 30th anniversary of Black Hawk Down to honor these incredible warriors. I respect few people on the planet more than the men in the skies over my head during that 18-hour battle.

Without question, the heaviest fighting was done 100 meters over my head by little birds and Black Hawks using miniguns and 2.75-millimeter rockets to keep me alive during that 18-hour fight. I would not be alive today without the Night Stalkers who stayed over our heads despite gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades that took down most of their buddies.

This article doesn’t do justice to the courage and skill of these brave men and women. I simply don’t have the words to describe my respect for the Night Stalkers, nor to thank those incredible warriors for all they did for me and my buddies 30 years ago today!

Listen to my recent interview with Dan Jollota, one of those courageous aviators.

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