FORT HOOD, TX, UNITED STATES
FORT HOOD, Texas – Just moments before he took the sky in an AH-64 Apache helicopter, Command Sgt. Maj. Neil Ciotola stared at the idle aircraft like a long lost friend.
"This thing saved my life," said Ciotola, of Elizabeth, N.J., command sergeant major, III Corps and Fort Hood, during a visit to the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, March 9, as he referred to the countless patrols he took part in as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. "I'll never be able to determine how many times these aircraft saved the lives of me and my troops."
Ciotola was all smiles as he took to the air with Chief Warrant Officer Michael Reese, from Copperas Cove, Texas, brigade standardizations instructor pilot, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, flying over Fort Hood for over an hour, before speaking at a non-commissioned officer professional development session later that afternoon.
His admiration for the job the 1st ACB does in protecting the Soldiers in combat is and how essential aviation is to the Army cause was the reason he visited, Ciotola said.
"Aviation is in such short supply, but it is one of the things we demand most," Ciotola said. "I look at the finite number of aviation organizations we have and the cost of these magnificent flying machines. But whenever I needed a flight and had to get somewhere the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade got me to where I wanted to go."
The sight of aircraft flying day and night over West Fort Hood is an amazing spectacle and something he gets to witness living in the area, Ciotola said, and flying in an Apache for the first time was a tremendous experience.
"Before I even knew it we had taxied and were off the ground," Ciotola said, shortly after flying. "It's funny because I thought we were hardly moving but were actually flying a hundred miles an hour. Chief Reese displayed amazing control up there."
Reese was enthusiastic about the flight, describing Ciotola's knowledge of the aircraft as above average, making for a smooth flight.
"The flight went very well and the purpose of it was to put senior leadership like the sergeant major in the aircraft to gain some understanding of the Apache and the air ground integration between us and the ground forces we support," said Reese.
The tactics employed by aircraft pilots in Iraq and Afghanistan were demonstrated to Ciotola, said Reese, with Ciotola easily grasping these concepts and asking pertinent questions about aircraft systems.
"He had a lot of understanding of the aircraft, that unless you are an aviator, most people don't understand," Reese said. "I know he has had the opportunity to fly in an Apache before but he turned it down because young crew chiefs had never had the chance. It was a great moment for him."
Ciotola was buoyant following the flight and said he will continue to trust his life with the 1st ACB. "If the good lord sees fit to deploy me again and the Corps finds itself back over there, I will once again place my life in the hands of the Air Cav ... Without reservation."
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This work, Command Sgt. Maj. Ciotola takes to the skies with the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, by Alun Thomas, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.