Community leaders from several central Kansas communities got a bird’s-eye view of Barton County during an orientation flight Wednesday sponsored by the Kansas National Guard Recruiting and Retention Battalion.
With a loud roar and “thumpa, thumpa, thumpa,” two olive green Black Hawk helicopters from Company B, 1st Battalion, 108th Aviation, lifted off from a Barton Community College parking lot with elected officials, educators, media and other professionals on board. In all, 37 passengers from central Kansas took turns taking 20-miniute flights.
“Wow, that was pretty wild,” said Rob Bauer as he hopped out of the helicopter after his ride. “That was cool.”
The UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter is the aerial workhorse of the Kansas Army National Guard. It is a four-bladed, twin-engine, medium-lift utility helicopter used for soldier and equipment transport, medical evacuation, support for ground troops, and other missions.
It holds 11 passengers and a four-person crew. The choppers in use Wednesday were two-year-old versions of the Black Hawks which were first introduced in 1994.
The two Black Hawks were dubbed “Chalk 1” and “Chalk 2.” Before the flights, the pilots gave passengers a brief rundown of the aircraft, safety procedures and what to do in the event of an emergency.
Then, with the blades loudly whirling overhead, the passengers climbed aboard and buckled themselves into the harnesses. With the cargo doors wide open and a rush of wind, the birds left the ground, revealing a miniature world below.
They passed over the patch-work quilt of gold and green fields dotted with farms, and criss-crossed by roads and highways. The snake-like Arkansas River cut across the landscape and Cheyenne Bottoms looked like a shimmering medallion.
In addition to the Black Hawks, the Guard had demonstrations of various military weapons and vehicles.
This marked the fifth orientation flight the KANG has done this year. There have been stops in Garden City, Hays, Pittsburg and Salina, and there are plans to visit Topeka and Wichita.
The mission objective
The goal of the flights was to educate the public on what the Guard does and what it offers, said Guard Public Affairs Officer Katie Horner during a pre-flight briefing in the BCC student union. “This is a chance for us to share our story and it is a chance for you to share our story.”
Starting out as a T.V. meteorologist, Horner said she covered plenty of disasters from a television studio and watched as the Guard came in to help victims. “Now, I have a chance to work with these heroes.”
“We want to give you a chance to see our equipment and see who we are,” said Capt. Chris Koochel, a Great Bend native who now heads up Guard recruiting efforts for most of eastern Kansas. The Guard helped with the Kansas State University engineering grad’s schooling and “gave me a chance at life.”
Through tuition assistance, duty pay, the G.I. Bill and scholarships, members have a chance to get their schooling and career counseling. Help is available while they are in the service and after they are discharged.
But, it is more than that, he said. He has responded with Guard units to western Kansas for the recent blizzard and to Greensburg for the tornado in 2007. “There’s no greater feeling than helping your community,” he said.
The Guard, which dates back to 1861, answers to the governor, but also answers the nation’s call for service at home and abroad. Guard personnel have been involved in every armed conflict since Civil War.