Face of Defense: Guard Pilot Serves Third Iraq Deployment

CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq, May 13, 2011 — You can see the twin­kle in his eye as he sits down.
Army Chief War­rant Offi­cer Wayne Wade — father, hus­band and pilot — would rather spend this inter­view talk­ing about his 18-month-old twins, Ross and Syd­ney, or his wife, Saman­tha, and how he is going on two weeks of rest and recu­per­a­tion leave.

Mississippi National Guard
Army Chief War­rant Offi­cer Wayne Wade of the Mis­sis­sip­pi Nation­al Guard is serv­ing his third deploy­ment to Iraq.
U.S. Cour­tesy pho­to
Click to enlarge

“I’m going back to Ful­ton, Miss., spend­ing time with my wife and kids,” he said. “I think we are get­ting a fam­i­ly por­trait done, but that is it.” Wade is on his third tour to Iraq — this time with the Mis­sis­sip­pi Nation­al Guard’s 1st Assault Heli­copter Bat­tal­ion, 185th Avi­a­tion Reg­i­ment. The bat­tal­ion is attached to the 40th Com­bat Avi­a­tion Brigade, which is deployed to Iraq in sup­port of Oper­a­tion New Dawn. 

Wade has flown a dif­fer­ent type of heli­copter on each of his tours in Iraq. On his first tour, he flew OH-58 Kiowa War­rior scout heli­copters. He then moved over to AH-64 Apache attack heli­copters, and now he flies UH-60 Black Hawk util­i­ty helicopters. 

When he enlist­ed in the Army Reserve in 1987, Wade spent five years as a crew mem­ber and crew chief onboard UH‑1 Huey heli­copters. This was enough, he said, to start him down what he called “the road to ruin” to becom­ing an accom­plished heli­copter pilot. 

He flew as a UH‑1 med­ical evac­u­a­tion pilot for the Army Reserve in Mis­sis­sip­pi, fol­lowed by spe­cial­ized train­ing on the OH-58. After mov­ing from the Reserve to the Mis­sis­sip­pi Nation­al Guard, he was cross-trained on the AH-64 Apache. 

Wade fin­ished his train­ing on Apach­es just in time for the buildup before the start of the Iraq inva­sion in 2003. But the Army’s needs took prece­dence, and Wade became an indi­vid­ual aug­mentee with 3rd Infantry Divi­sion, fly­ing OH-58s. 

Ten months of boots on the ground and in the air as a scout for tanks was very dif­fer­ent from today’s envi­ron­ment, Wade said. “Back then, there was almost no elec­tric­i­ty in Iraq,” he explained. “We would land next to a [heavy expand­ed mobil­i­ty tac­ti­cal truck], fill up the bird and take off again. When we got tired, we would stop, sleep in the dirt, get up and do it again.” 

Wade said he was part of the inva­sion all the way to Bagh­dad. “I looked at one of my jour­nals from that time a while back and saw that it was sev­er­al weeks into fly­ing mis­sions before there was an entry of, ‘Did­n’t get shot at today,’ ” he said. 

In 2006, he was deployed as an Apache pilot with the 36th Com­bat Avi­a­tion Brigade at the height of the surge. His flight com­pa­ny was based in Bal­ad, but as a core asset, they were moved around a lot. Wade said he worked every­where from Con­tin­gency Oper­at­ing Base Spe­ich­er and south. He also spent some time in Bas­ra sup­port­ing the British, he said. 

“In ’06 and ’07, there were air­craft and peo­ple every­where,” he recalled. “There were so many air­craft in the air you had to be care­ful that you did­n’t run into each oth­er.” Fol­low­ing his sec­ond tour in Iraq, Wade attend­ed the Black Hawk tran­si­tion course at Fort Ruck­er, Ala., even­tu­al­ly becom­ing an instruc­tor pilot at a flight facil­i­ty in Tupe­lo, Miss. He flew a civil­ian heli­copter ambu­lance for a while out of Oxford, Miss. “But I decid­ed that with the lit­tle ones on the way, the Army made bet­ter sense for us as a fam­i­ly,” he said. 

This third tour has been spent at the con­trols of a Black Hawk util­i­ty heli­copter. As a senior avi­a­tor with more than 3,400 hours, Wade said, he likes the the­o­ry behind the use of the Black Hawk to move assets around the coun­try instead of by con­voy. Wade became reflec­tive when asked the dif­fer­ences between now and the begin­ning of the war in Iraq. “Now it seems that there is real­ly a much greater sense of nor­mal­cy through­out the entire coun­try,” he said. “The peo­ple in the coun­try seem to be mov­ing for­ward. Now it seems like the land is lush and there is farm­ing, where­as before, when there was no elec­tric­i­ty, all of the irri­ga­tion was grav­i­ty-fed, and there was a lot less farm­ing going on.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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