by Airman 1st Class Dillon Johnston
341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
1/30/2015 - MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- Arriving
at the squadron building before the sun has poked above the mountains
in the distance, a crew of three begins preparations for a day of
Making calls to arrange refueling support and flight plans, the two
pilots busily work to ensure the mission is able to take off on time.
Meanwhile, the crew's special missions aviator makes preparations for
the flight to include pre-flight checks on the chopper, as well as
checking over the manifest of those who will be flying that mission.
For this tight-knit group, all the preparation and attention to detail
pays off ten-fold, as the joy of being in the air is compensation
"(My favorite thing) is flying, hands down," said Capt. RJ Bergman, 40th
Helicopter Squadron rescue pilot. "It's what we enjoy doing, and
everything else is just so we can fly."
And flying is exactly what was on the menu that morning. An all-day
sortie was ahead of them, covering a large portion of the missile field
as part of a launch facility security sweep with Tactical Response Force
Airmen from the 341st Security Forces Group.
"We, as well as the security forces members, are responsible for the
security of the entire missile field," said 1st Lt. Greg Johnston, 40th
HS rescue pilot. "We are that forward presence, letting people know we
are out there and watching."
This presence in the field is paramount in deterring those who would seek to disrupt or attack the launch facilities.
"Sometimes it's kind of hard to quantify what we do, because we go out
there and day-to-day we never expect something to be going on," Bergman
said. "But it's hard to say how many (incidents) may have been prevented
just by helicopters and security forces being out patrolling the
In order to complete these sorts of missions, which are normally
low-level flying, the entire crew needs to be working in conjunction
with one another.
"We have a pretty good view up front, but I can't tell what is directly
below the helicopter," Johnston said. "So crew resource management comes
into play with basically every flight we do, especially where we are
yanking and banking pretty close to the ground."
Utilizing each other's strengths, the crew was able to effectively
survey and clear launch facilities as they made their way east, toward
the Lewistown Municipal Airport in Lewistown, Montana, for a quick break
for lunch and fuel. Trading in their UH-1N Huey for a loaner car
provided by the airport, a less-than-mint 1986 Oldsmobile nicknamed the
"Brougham," the crew climbed in and headed for town for some much needed
Arriving at a small burger restaurant, they grabbed some food, unwound
and talked about their personal lives, work struggles and joked with
each other like it was any other day. This level of camaraderie is
something Staff Sgt. Ryan Oliver believes is essential in the flying
"There's so much work to do, and there are so few people, but we all are
happy," said the special missions aviator. "It's not a big deal to work
a 12-hour day, because you just get to hang out with these guys all the
time; you work with them and they're right there with you, always with a
smile on their face. It's a good working environment."
"Obviously we haven't been hard enough on you!" Bergman chimed in jokingly.
Finishing their meal, the crew climbed back into the Brougham and headed
back to the airfield. Just barely making it over the hill leading to
the Huey, the car sputtered and muscled its way there and was traded
back in for their chopper.
With a fresh tank of fuel, it was time to complete the last leg of the
mission before heading back to base. Continuing through the mountainous
terrain on an unusually clear and calm day, the helicopter made its way
from LF to LF, occasionally buzzing over missile alert facilities when
they were close by.
After securing the last LF on the roster for that day, Johnston and
Bergman took a scenic route back to base, taking in the beauty of the
wilderness in the missile field. Arriving back at base with almost a
half an hour of fuel left, the crew decided it was a perfect opportunity
to practice their approaches and hovers, as well as takeoff procedures.
"I wanted to get a lot of approach work done," Johnston said. "I haven't
really been able to do as much (of that) with the kinds of missions
I've been flying lately.
"It was one thing I felt like I was getting kind of weak on, so I was
making sure I was focusing on that today, and I came out of the flight
like, 'Yep I got that done, I feel like I'm better than I was when I got
in the aircraft this morning,'" he continued.
Once they felt they had gotten in enough training, the crew put the
chopper down on the landing pad and headed back inside the squadron
building to return their gear and debrief. With a successful flight
under their belts, they went over what went right, what went wrong, and
how to improve for future missions.
Beyond the joy of a job well done, the crew all agreed the best part of
the day was simply working with each other and strengthening their
interoperability and bonds as brothers in arms.
"My whole purpose of becoming a (special missions aviator) was for this
community," Oliver said. "Hanging out with some good guys and spending
some time with them is always a good thing."
The pilots both nodded in affirmation, with Bergman adding, "We are
incredibly lucky to have a job we love and a job not many people get to
do. They give us a helicopter and we have a 14,000 square mile missile
field that we get to patrol, so we get to see some pretty awesome things
and do some pretty awesome flying. I'm honestly just thankful for
With more than 20 LFs secured over the course of the day and the sun
beginning to dip below the horizon, the crew headed out for some rest
before getting up and doing it all again the next day.