This job allows me to meet some great people, many of whom become good friends, and make some great memories. This recent experience is just one example. Several years back I met James Campbell, a retired Lieutenant from the California Air National Guard Airborne Search and Rescue. James' company, Black Hawk Customs, is one of the largest powersport dealerships that cater specifically to military personnel. A few months ago James informed me about a three-month tour he was taking with his truck and travel trailer across the country stopping at 38 military bases along the way. His plan was to set up at the Exchanges at the bases, visit with the soldiers, and help out some of his suppliers by handing out brochures. He said towards the end he was going to make his way over towards Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas and wanted to know if I would come and hang out with him. A road trip to Vegas? Hell yeah!
As the date got closer, James informed me that he'd run into one of his contacts from Nellis, Lieutenant Colonel Jim "Yogi" McElhenney, 563rd Rescue Group Deputy Commander. Yogi said they were gathering up all the motorcycle riders on base and there was a possibility we could get onto the flight deck where they had a group of HH-60G Pavehawk helicopters-the Air Force's only Combat Search and Rescue helicopter-and maybe we could take some pictures with the helicopters.
When I got to Vegas, James was looking a little worn down as he was wrapping up the last few stops on his trip. But after some dinner and drinks with a few of his local military buddies, we were all feeling good. All I have to say is 6 a.m. comes pretty early in Vegas, and I nearly slept right through it. I was late, not exactly how I wanted to impress a group of our nation's heroes. Thankfully when I arrived on base they all realized I was just a slacker magazine editor and welcomed me with open arms. I was then introduced to Yogi (who rode a Road King), his wife (who rode a Sportster), and their daughter, who wasn't old enough to ride, but I could tell she was itching to get a bike of her own. Yogi then introduced me to the rest of the group who were all part of the Air Force Rescue 23rd Wing "Flying Tigers" and made up the 563rd Rescue Group, the 58th Rescue Squadron, the 66th Rescue Squadron, and the 763rd Maintenance Squadron.
After all the pleasantries were exchanged, Yogi said, "OK, is everybody ready?" and the next thing I knew we were rolling out onto the flight deck amongst the huge menacing helicopters. Now I know everyone likes to brag about how much horsepower their bike has, but there isn't much smack talking when you're around these badass birds. Once we hit the center of the tarmac, I organized everyone for a group photo and then began taking individual photos. I was having a blast snapping away as each of them rolled their two-wheeled pride-and-joy out in front of their flying pride-and-joy. Everyone was just grinning ear to ear.
Once I took the last photo, I began to load my gear to meet back up with James in front of the Exchange. But then I heard Yogi say, "Wait, a couple more photos." He called out a couple orders and a group of guys attacked one of the helicopters, peeled back the ground straps, and Yogi told me to get in. I think my eyes almost popped out of my head as I stuffed my ass into the cockpit. Yogi then pointed out all the controls, levers, and switches, and explained what they all did. I was amazed at how much was crammed into such a small space. To actually get to sit in one of those of HH-60G Pavehawks was such a cool experience, and definitely one I'll never forget.
After they nearly had to pull me out of the helicopter, we said our goodbyes and I went over to the Exchange where James was set up. We sat out front and just talked with military personnel and their families, took pictures, handed out magazines, laughed, and had a fun and relaxing rest of the day.
It's funny, several people were excited to see that HOT BIKE was on base and stopped by to say hi. But really, I was more in awe of the people I was meeting and talking to. I mean, sitting behind a desk making a magazine is nothing compared to the risks and sacrifices these men and women make to protect us and keep our country safe. I thank you and the magazine thanks you for all you do.
I hate to end such a great day and memory on a sad note, but as I was getting ready to write this editorial, Yogi contacted me via email to inform me of some sad news. On June 9, a helicopter from the 66th Rescue Squadron (the squadron that let us use their aircraft for the photoshoot) was shot down in Afghanistan. Several people were killed and a few were critically injured. All of them were from the 563rd Rescue Group and were on a MEDEVAC mission to recover a critically injured British soldier.
Their names are as follows: Killed in Action 9 June 2010: Combat Rescue Officer, Captain Joel Genz-58th Rescue Squadron Pararescueman; Technical Sergeant Michael Flores-48th Rescue Squadron Flight Engineer; Staff Sergeant David Smith-66th Rescue Squadron Pararescueman; Senior Airman Benjamin White-48th Rescue Squadron
Wounded in Action 9 June 2010, later died from injuries sustained 2 July 2010: Pilot, Captain David Wisniewski-66th Rescue Squadron
Wounded in Action 9 June 2010, still in critical condition: Pilot, Captain Anthony Simon-66th Rescue Squadron; Aerial Gunner, Master Sergeant Christopher Aguilera-66th Rescue Squadron
This article is dedicated to those that lost their lives and the families and friends who will forever miss them but never forget them. And to those who were wounded, please make a speedy recovery.
Until next time,