US Army, May 19, 2015 - HUNTER ARMY AIRFIELD, GA by Sgt William Begley – The pilots of the 3rd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade bid an emotional farewell to the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior scout helicopter during the final flight at Hunter Army Airfield May 13.
The commander of 3rd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Reg., Lt. Col. Geoffrey Whittenberg explained why the 3rd CAB leadership decided to salute the community of Savannah, Hinesville and the Soldiers at Fort Stewart by taking this historic flight.
“We were recently ordered to divest this aircraft and will be sending them down to the bone yard in Arizona to complete this process. Before they go we wanted to recognize the aircraft departing by doing an over flight of the Savannah area, Tybee Island, and then Fort Stewart,” Whittenberg said.
The 22 aircraft flew in three chevron shaped formations over the downtown area providing the public with a chance to see the Kiowa aircraft one last time. A reminder to all the future of Army aviation is changing significantly. Bittersweet change for long time pilots like the squadron commander.
Whittenberg has been flying the Kiowa for over 17 years. He said he chose the aircraft specifically for the mission it supported.
“It was the primary scout aircraft for the cavalry,” Whittenberg said. “We go out there and hunt down the enemy and find where he is at. I just like that mission. I like being the eyes and ears of the commander forward and this airframe has provided me the opportunity to do that.”
Before returning to HAAF, the pilots and aircraft flew over Warrior’s Walk in a “missing man” formation in respect and reverence to those Soldiers and pilots who made the ultimate sacrifice. They also paid respect to one of their own, Chief Warrant Officer 3 James Groves III who lost his life March 16, 2013 in a helicopter crash during Operation Enduring Freedom.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 James Carrico, senior instructor pilot, 3rd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Reg., was one of the 44 pilots in the cockpit for the last flight. He spoke about the many times he provided the air support which helped protect the boots on the ground Soldiers during wartime.
“I felt obligated to give the young men and women as much protection as I could possibly provide,” Carrico said. “If it meant I was returning to the base on fumes or firing my last round, that’s what I was going to give them. There isn’t an aviator out here that wouldn’t give everything to provide that level of support to our Soldiers on the ground.”
Capt. Stephanie Hartley, commander, Troop A, 3rd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Reg. was given a choice to pilot any of the airframes she wanted. She said being a Kiowa pilot for the last seven years has taught her why the Kiowa truly embodied the cavalry spirit of being “out front.” She said the aircraft would be missed.
“That was a hell of a way to go out,” Hartley said. “It’s awesome to feel that support from the community and the folks down on Fort Stewart. It was pretty amazing. It’s the end of an era.”