KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – The desire to become a pilot can stem from various reasons, such as a family background in aviation, being fascinated with flying, or the joy associated with flying an aircraft. For Chief Warrant Officer 5 Joe Roland, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade standardization officer, his desire was a combination of family background and the feeling of flying.
“I used to go flying with my dad when I was eight,” recalled Roland, a native of Falmouth, Mass. “My passion for flying came from those flights, and my family has a background in aviation. My father was a senior pilot for U.S. Airways and used to fly for the Navy, one of my brothers is an F-18 pilot in the Navy, and my other brother is an air traffic controller.”
Roland’s background led to a 19-year-long career in the U.S. Army as a UH-60 Black Hawk pilot. Through his career, he has become the most decorated UH-60 pilot currently in the Army.
According to Col. Frank Tate, 25th CAB commander, “Roland is being recognized by Sikorsky as being the Army’s most decorated Black Hawk pilot. I have pinned most of the medals he has earned as well as promoted him to CW4 and CW5.”
Before joining the Army, he served six years in the Marine Corps as a UH-1N Huey crew chief and AH-1W Cobra repairer. In 1992, he was selected to attend Warrant Officer Candidate School and Initial Entry Rotary Wing flight training at Fort Rucker, Ala. He graduated from initial flight training on the Commandant’s List in 1993 and later selected to attend UH-60 Black Hawk qualification training.
“I chose the Black Hawk because it is the Army’s most versatile helicopter,” Roland said. “It has the most opportunities for a bigger scope of missions. When I first started in flight school, I was not a natural aviator. The instructors did a good job teaching me because I was able to graduate in the top two percent of my class.”
During his time as a UH-60 pilot, he generated more than 6,700 flight hours, 2,250 night-vision goggle flight hours, 1,900 combat flight hours and has served at locations around the world in Germany, Korea and the United States. He also served combat tours during Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn.
“In the ten years I have known him, he is the finest warrant officer I have served with,” said Tate, a native from Charlotte, N.C. “He is aggressive and cool under fire with an unending sense of duty. There is almost nothing he wouldn’t do on behalf of the Soldier on the ground.”
Like the great Chuck Yeager, Roland finds the pleasure no matter what mission or type of flight he is conducting.
“My most enjoyable moments of flying are when I am the Air Mission Commander on a complex mission and teaching young aviators the trade,” said Roland. “It helps my brain work to complete complicated and tasking missions to standard. Also, I enjoy that I can train others to do what I do.”
Throughout his long career, Roland has flown some memorable missions.
“One of my most memorable flights with him was the night we flew Saddam Hussein’s body to his final resting place,” Tate recalled. “It signified the end of Saddam’s reign and the beginning of the newly-formed government of Iraq.”
When not flying missions deployed, he spends his flight time teaching the younger aviators how to be more proficient with their flying.
“He is well respected and admired by his peers and fellow aviators and sets standards other warrant officers strive to achieve,” said Tate. “I am extraordinarily proud of him, proud of the CAB and soldiers who often flew with him throughout this war. I am proud to have served with him.”