by Helen Sabin
Bitterroot Valley residents were treated to a special show and tell last Wednesday at the Hamilton Airport when the US Army Special Forces brought in two Chinook helicopters for citizens to observe, ask questions about, and walk through to see where their tax dollars are being spent. These “senior citizen” helicopters were magnificent. The flying machines were first built in the Vietnam-era and in 2003 underwent a 75% refurbishment of old parts and equipment. They are still being used today by Army Special Operators when they fly on missions all over the world. Due to the refueling boom at the front of the aircraft, these machines can fly uninterrupted to a mission and not have to take the time to stop and re-fuel.
A crew of about six and their equipment fit easily inside the spacious helicopter bodies but sometimes, depending on where they are headed and their mission, it can be a tight squeeze to fit in all the equipment they need.
Two pilots can be seated in the front of the aircraft, while the remainder of the crew and maintenance specialists sit in the rear.
“Magnificent, totally awesome, and amazingly impressive,” were just some of the adjectives used to describe the impact the helicopters made on the crowd that gathered to hear both a pilot, a maintenance sergeant, and a crew chief explain the various parts of the copter and how it functions.
The Chinooks are used for a multitude of purposes including protection of ground troops, delivery or evacuation of troops in and out of a combat area, medical evacuations, and any other purpose with which the Army decides to task the pilot and his crew.
Many Vietnam veterans and Vietnam-era veterans walked through the body of the helicopters with solemn faces and silence, remembering what these marvelous machines did to aid them in the Vietnam War. One combat medic shared stories of treating wounded soldiers inside one of these helicopters.
One young woman who is a senior this year at Corvallis High School mentioned to her mother that she might consider enlisting in the military if they would train her to be a nurse. That was joy to the ears of the Vietnam vet medic standing next to her who said she was “needed” and could use her skills anywhere in the world if she chose to do so.
Stories of bravery, sadness, as well as happiness, flowed around the crowd and one man with tears in his eyes thanked the Special Operators who were giving the tour. “Without you men, I would not be here today. May God Bless you all,” he stated and then turned and walked away wiping his eyes free of tears as he left.
The next time you hear the heavy beat of the helicopter blades going overhead at night, or see these magnificent machines flying around the valley, give them a wave or salute. The Operators were leaving after training for two weeks here in the Bitterroot Valley but they will be back as they use the “gorgeous mountains,” as the pilot of one helicopter described them, to keep their skills up to date.
“I love this area and its people,” he said. I’ve got news for him. We in the valley love and appreciate our military just as much as he does this area. Special Operators and all military are welcome any time. And if they ever offer “free” rides in those amazing flying machines, I’ll be first in line.