For the last week, ever since I received the internal 15-6 investigation from First Army about the Black Hawk crash back in November 2015, I’ve been chin-deep into the report analyzing the findings.
All signs point to pilot error. But before you start dismissing this incident as just some “hot-dogging” pilot who let his ego get in the way, step back and think about a few things.
Whether you’ve been in the Army one year or 20, can you honestly think of a time where you didn’t have to find a way to complete training without either funding for it or the proper equipment needed to successfully train? I know I could list at least a dozen times just the last year I was actively training before starting my retirement leave.
As the defense budget is continually cut, especially since the “end” of combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, commanders and senior noncommissioned officers have had to get creative to find ways to keep soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines ready to go back to combat at a moment’s notice.
And yes, I know that combat deployments are still going on and that the new rotations to places such as Korea, Kuwait and Eastern Europe have kept the deployment pace just as fast as when we were in the middle of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. But once the commander in chief says the wars are over, the money to maintain combat readiness has a habit of drying up.
Because we train as we fight, training is often just as dangerous as going on a combat patrol in Afghanistan — accidents can, and do, happen.
And when you’re underfunded and don’t have the proper equipment, that training becomes even more dangerous and accidents — sometimes fatal ones — are more likely to happen.
The other thing to think about is the cost, and I’m not talking about the helicopter.
Any time one of our brothers or sisters in service dies during a training accident, it hits us even harder than when they die in combat. We expect bad things to happen “over there,” so it’s doubly-hurtful when something happens at home.
Sgt. 1st Class Toby Childers, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Stephen B. Cooley, Sgt. 1st Class Jason M. Smith and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael F. Tharp all had families who loved them. Regardless of how the accident happened or who will be blamed — even possibly who may be fired or charged in the incident — it is these four soldiers and their families who we should continue to think of, pray for and remember.
In the end, they are the ones who are important. Let the big brass who get paid lots of money figure out how to mitigate future accidents — we will remember our fallen brothers instead and think of them when we see that empty place setting at the table.