War on Terrorism

Monday, November 08, 2010

Face of Defense: Vietnam Vet Trains for Final Iraq Tour

By Army Spc. Carl Havlik
166th Aviation Brigade, Division West

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.

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.

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