JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -The whine of the turbine engine is deafening as the engine spins up and lifts the aircraft into the air. The pilots of these aircraft see the world from an entirely different perspective than most any military occupational specialty in the Army.
For one Soldier, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Paul Laser, OH-58D Kiowa Warriors pilot, 4th Attack Reconnaissance Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, being a pilot in the Army was all he thought about before joining the Army.
During the late ’90s the Kaysville, Utah, native took the opportunity to earn his private pilot’s license with the intension of getting a job with a major airline. The events of Sept. 11, 2001, eliminated the availability of entry level jobs in the aviation industry, commented Laser. After doing some research and discussing the military life with family and his wife of 12 years, he decided that the Army aviation world would be his next adventure.
After spending seven years as an aircraft powerplant repairer for the Army, Laser finally got his opportunity to move up and attend flight school where the Army would pay him to chase his dream of being a pilot.
“I have always had the bug for aviation. Before I joined the Army I had my private pilots license, but had always wanted to be in the military. After talking it over with my wife and my father-in-law, I decided I was going to come in as an enlisted soldier and spend a little time doing that until I could get into flight school,” said Laser.
With all the jobs that the Army offers, the excitement Laser gets from his current job reminds him of why he joined the military.
“What we do is awesome. We get to go fly around, there is nothing like it,” said Laser. “It is amazing especially here. On a clear day you can see Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, the whole chain of mountains. It is absolutely beautiful.”
As a pilot, Laser is thankful for the service he provides and that even with his past as a mechanic, he would not think of doing anything else in the military.
“We work for the guys on the ground. Anytime we launch, especially downrange, we are over-head and there for them. It’s what we do,” said Laser. “Our primary job is recon, but we are always on call. When they need us we are going to do everything we can do to help them out. It looks sexy what we do but mostly it’s a lot of flying around in circles. More than anything we are there for the soldiers.”
Laser wanted to clear up some misconceptions about what it means to be a helicopter pilot in the Army.
“I think a lot of people get the impression pilots are a bunch of cowboys, especially in the scout world, but that’s not us at all. There is a lot of planning that goes into every flight and you are constantly learning as a pilot,” said Laser. “When we leave flight school the knowledge we gain can’t be just tossed away. We study constantly because at any given time an instructor pilot can come up to you and tell you it is your day for a no-notice examination. The instructor than gives you an oral test and takes you up for a flight to check your skills.”
But as a pilot, not every day is about great war stories and the freedom of flying, there can be worries and concerns about the dangers of the job.
“My grandfather died in a plane crash as a C-130 pilot. There are things that happen in aviation that just happen. People get in car accidents and there are aircraft accidents. For me, and most of the pilots here, you accept that and it really doesn’t bother you,” said Laser. “But when something like an accident happens, seeing how the families left behind are affected causes you to pause and reprioritize things in your life. It is not something I think about when I go out and fly, but I know if something were to happen, my family would be taken care of.”
While the Davis High School graduate and all-state ice hockey defenseman knows that deployments are a necessary part of being in the military, he sees them positively and is eager to put his skills to the test.
“Deployments are a double edge sword. I will of course miss my family, but look forward to actually getting to employ the aircraft in the role it was intended for,” said Laser. “In training, all we do is ‘pretend’. It will be nice to have a chance to do the real deal and build on the positive reputation the scout community has developed with our customers on the ground. I want to be counted among those professionals.”
Fortunately for Laser, he has the support of his family and friends to do his job every day and know they stand behind him as he serves in the military.
“My family has been very supportive of my decisions. I was 27 when I decided to join. When I told my folks they just wondered why now. My dad knew I would always fly something and he loves talking to me about aviation,” said Laser. “My father-in-law is a lieutenant colonel and my wife’s step-father was a green beret. They love the fact that I have found a home in the Army and enjoy it as much as I do. I get my support from my family.”
For those from Kaysville and other soldiers in the military who think that being a pilot is unattainable, Laser said there is no time like the present.
“Don’t wait if you want to be a pilot. People talk all the time. If you are just going to talk about it you are never going to do it,” said Laser. “Find out what you need to get started with your packet. Worst case someone will say no, then you go and resubmit it again. But you have to stay dedicated if it is what you want.”