US Army, August 25, 2014 - FORT RUCKER, Alabama By Nathan Pfau - A legacy decades in the making is coming to an end, as eight students from Fort Rucker's last OH-58D Kiowa Warrior class prepare to graduate.
Class 14-002 is the last OH-58D Kiowa Warrior class scheduled to go through Fort Rucker, and Soldiers completed their final tests and check rides Aug. 8, as their Sept. 4 graduation day approaches, according to Chief Warrant Officer 3 Nate Weber, C Troop, 1st Battalion, 14th Aviation Regiment.
The Kiowa Warrior has been the Army's primary scout helicopter since the mid 1990s, said Weber, and has earned that right because of its maneuverability and size.
"The OH-58D replaced the Cobra helicopter," Weber explained. "It's small, it's quiet and it's the only single-engine aircraft in the conventional Army's inventory. It's extremely quiet compared to most other airframes, and that's due to its size. [They're] designed to not be seen."
The eight students have gone through months of training for the airframe, from learning about the Kiowa Warrior in the classroom, right up to taking the birds up for their final check rides and scout weapons team training, which includes integration and how to work together as a team.
For 2nd Lt. Matthew Pisano, OH-58D flight student, the end of training brought mixed emotions because, he said, he wants other Soldiers to have the same experiences he's had going through his training.
"To be the last class on Fort Rucker to go through this class and learn the OH-58D airframe is kind of an honor, but at the same time it's bittersweet, especially now toward the end of the training," he said. "I wish we could get other aviators to do this and get this perspective that they could take to the battlefield, so that they have perspective on not only their job, but everyone else's job. That's part of the scout rule -- to understand everyone else's job."
Fellow student Warrant Officer 1 Jamie Collazo shares that sentiment, and agreed that supporting the ground troops is job No. 1.
"To be part of the last class is an honor, but it's still the last class, and we might not be able to fly in a couple of years, but it really hasn't hit me yet," she said. "I just want to be able to continue to do what the Kiowas did for our troops during my last deployment, which was to provide support for the ground forces. I would like to continue to do that in the future."
Collazo said she's keeping her options open for when the time comes to transition, but ultimately wants to be able to provide that support.
"I initially started out as an intelligence analyst and I was assigned to the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade at Fort Bragg, North Carolina," she said. "I went on three deployments with them, and the unit I was with was a Kiowa unit and I got to see everything they did, so that piqued my interest in the airframe."
From there she knew she wanted to go into aviation.
Pisano originally enlisted in the Army in the ground world as an infantryman, but said he had dual interests to be a leader as well as an operator, and that's where aviation grabbed his interest.
"I wanted to be a leader in the cockpit and outside the cockpit, leading warrant officers and enlisted Soldiers, as well as being a technical operator," he said. "There are not many other branches where you get to do both, and that's why I chose to go into aviation."
His reason for choosing the Kiowa Warrior as his airframe also tied into his desire to closely support ground troops.
"During my short time in the ground world, the Kiowa Warrior was always the closest thing and direct support for the ground commanders, and that's what I wanted to do, was be able to offer that ground support for other commanders," said Pisano.
Although flight school has had its challenges, Pisano said the most rewarding part of his journey has been seeing how he and his fellow students have grown throughout the process, not to mention getting the opportunity to shoot big guns.
"I'm not going to lie, shooting rockets and the 50-caliber guns was pretty fun, but seeing myself and all my other classmates become combat aviators -- that's the real reward," he said.