Face of Defense: Vietnam Vet Trains for Final Iraq Tour

FORT HOOD, Texas, Nov. 8, 2010 — Army Chief War­rant Offi­cer 5 Stephen Sander­son flew heli­copters in Viet­nam and still is fly­ing today as a UH-60 Black Hawk pilot for the Ver­mont Army Nation­al Guard’s Com­pa­ny C, 3rd Bat­tal­ion, 126th Med­ical Evac­u­a­tion Reg­i­ment.

Vermont Army National Guard
Army Chief War­rant Offi­cer 5 Stephen Sander­son of the Ver­mont Army Nation­al Guard checks a flight book pri­or to a mis­sion at North Fort Hood, Texas, Sept. 23, 2010. Sanderson’s unit is train­ing for a deploy­ment to Iraq.
U.S. Army pho­to by Spc. Carl Hav­lik
Click to enlarge

Sanderson’s unit is receiv­ing train­ing here from 1st Army Divi­sion West’s 166th Avi­a­tion Brigade, prepar­ing for a mis­sion in Iraq that will be his final tour.

“I’ve done the jun­gle, not the desert,” he said. After enlist­ing in the Army in June 1969, Sander­son flew UH-1 Huey heli­copters for an assault com­pa­ny in Viet­nam dur­ing his first tour. He said he believes one of the biggest dif­fer­ences between the Viet­nam War and cur­rent over­seas con­tin­gency oper­a­tions is that the draft filled the U.S. military’s ranks in the Viet­nam era. In today’s Army, he not­ed, every sol­dier is a vol­un­teer.

“This is the best-edu­cat­ed and moti­vat­ed Army we have sent down­range,” Sander­son said. “These sol­diers want to be here.”

Army avi­a­tion has also changed a lot since the Viet­nam War, he said.

“There are a lot of pre­flight checks that have to be done now,” he explained. “Back then, we got our mis­sion, drew up a plan right there and that was it.”

The equip­ment also has changed. Black Hawk heli­copters are a lot tougher and more tech­no­log­i­cal­ly advanced than the Viet­nam-era Huey, Sander­son said. For exam­ple, new Black Hawks are equipped with dig­i­tized con­trol pan­els and gauges, unlike the Huey and old­er Black Hawk mod­els.

Sander­son, who recent­ly cel­e­brat­ed both his 60th birth­day and 40th anniver­sary of grad­u­at­ing from flight school, had a sim­ple expla­na­tion for why he con­tin­ues to fly. “It’s a priv­i­lege and an hon­or,” he said.

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

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