By Army Sgt. Adam Fischman
139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
BOTSWANA - “Mahalo,” or thank you, the pilot said, after being handed a bottle of water from the rear of the aircraft. The kind nature of Hawaiian culture reinforced the unique mix of service members present at Southern Accord 12 in The Republic of Botswana, Africa.
During a 16-day, U.S. Army Africa-led combined joint exercise, which has brought the Marines, Navy, Air Force, and Army together to train with the Botswana Defense Force, one unit brought four CH-47F Chinook Helicopters into Botswana for the first time ever. The 1st Battalion, 171st Aviation Regiment out of Wheeler Army Airfield in Wahiawa, Hawaii, brought the CH-47s and will provide personnel and equipment movement for the duration of the exercise.
SA12 is a key element in a series of military-to-military exercises to demonstrate the strong partnership between the two countries. SA12 will enhance Botswana’s ability to support its African standby-forces and will foster security cooperation while conducting combined, joint humanitarian assistance/peacekeeping operations, as well as aero-medical evacuation exercises.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Craig Takenaka, 28, of Mililani, Hawaii, is the maintenance test pilot for Company B, 1-171st. His key responsibility is to check and test each Chinook prior to it being deemed operational, which can be a considerably risky job with a great deal of responsibility.
“He loves what he does and I’ve never seen anyone as dedicated to his position,” said CW2 Michael Misunas, a pilot with Company B. “His level of concern and the way he conducts his efforts towards the maintenance of these aircraft, displays the lengths a dedicated maintenance test pilot will go to ensure the safety of his crew.”
Maintenance test pilots are greatly respected among the aviation community for putting their lives on the line to test aircraft for other pilots prior to operational flights, said Misunas. They must ensure the safety of every passenger who will later occupy the aircraft, by certifying it safe to fly through a meticulous series of checks and a final test flight.
“Mr. Takenaka has a certain love for this aircraft and for his job,” said Misunas. “Just knowing that a test pilot has that much passion for the aircraft that he flies gives me a sincere feeling of reassurance this aircraft is safe to be flown and air worthy.”
Takenaka said his mission in Botswana has given the four-year test pilot a fortified sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in his career field. Having started out as an enlisted Chinook mechanic, his progress in becoming a second-generation warrant officer has shaped his role as a mentor to his team. However, Takenaka’s career view and demeanor have always proven to be relentlessly selfless, said Misunas.
“During deployment was when I felt the greatest reward in being a Chinook pilot,” said Takenaka. “Dropping off the most needed supplies such as food, water, and toiletries to soldiers in remote areas and seeing how appreciative they were for receiving such basic things; for us to be the ones to provide that support is one of the most rewarding feelings.”
Takenaka said he emphasizes the importance of a tightly knit team. Some may consider his views unconventional in traditional military environments, but Takenaka believes a stronger and more effective team can be managed through respect rather than rank.
“The bond between officers and NCO’s within the Chinook community is very close,” he said. When it comes down to the critical moments, it’s all about coming together as a crew to complete the mission safely and successfully.”
Thebephatshwa Air Base in the Republic of Botswana has been the area of operation for the large-scale, joint military training exercise which will be mutually beneficial to both forces. Takenaka said his scope has broadened to encompass a larger purpose, which rewards him with the same sense of accomplishment.
“To travel halfway around the world from Hawaii to Botswana, Africa, to train with the Botswana Defense Force is a very exciting opportunity,” said Takenaka. “After meeting the people and working alongside the BDF, I believe this is going to be a good mission. Seeing how open they are to learn from us and how willing they are to help us along the way is going to be mutually beneficial for both forces and will strengthen our relationship.”