Vietnam Vet Continues Service in Afghanistan

LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Ask Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Walter Jones why he serves, and he will tell you, "It's all about flying and soldiers."

Jones, born in Mountain Home, Idaho, is serving in Afghanistan as an aviation maintenance officer with Company D, 5th Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade. He enlisted in the Army at 18, and after completing basic training in 1969, he went on to Fort Rucker, Ala., to become a UH-1 "Huey" helicopter crew chief. Soon after that, he found himself assigned to the 162nd Assault Helicopter Company in Can Tu, Vietnam.

During a mission, his aircraft took small-arms fire. Rounds struck the helicopter's fuel cell, and the aircraft immediately caught fire. The helicopter began to spin about 200 feet above the ground.

Jones braced for impact and was knocked unconscious. During his 10-month recovery in the hospital, he made an important decision.

"That experience really made me focus on what I wanted to do with my life," Jones said. "I wanted to make a career out of the Army."

The Army re-classified him as a telephone line repairman and stationed him with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C. But having valuable combat experience as a Huey crew chief in Vietnam, he quickly found his way back into aviation. During the Arab-Israeli War in 1973, Jones said, he remembers sitting on the green ramp being on standby to support Israel if needed, but Israel did not require it.

While at Fort Bragg, he saw the experimental full-scale model of the future UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. Pointing to the balsa-wood model, he said, he told one of his buddies, "I am going to fly that one day."

"And I did," said Jones, now a veteran Black Hawk pilot.

In 1975, he graduated from flight school, and the 101st Airborne Division was next on his horizon. Assigned to Company D, 158th Assault Helicopter Battalion, his dream of flying Black Hawks became a reality. Company D was the first unit in the Army to receive the UH-60, and in 1979 Jones became one of the first pilots to go through the UH-60 qualification course.

"The 101st set the standard as far as Army aviation goes," Jones said. "The 101st is the only way to go. It sets the standards for air assaults."

After assignments in Korea, Hawaii and Texas, Jones found his way back to Fort Campbell, Ky., when the 6th Attack Training Battalion returned to the home of the 101st to become the 2nd/101st Attack Battalion.

Jones retired from active duty service at Fort Campbell in 1993. After his retirement, he went to work for contractors in Saudi Arabia, where he continued to fly.

In 1999, his wife, Diane, gave him an ultimatum.

"She told me, 'If you are going to leave again, don't bother coming home,'" Jones recalled. So in 2001, he took a job working for a contractor at Fort Campbell. Jones worked around soldiers and was only responsible for the maintenance of aircraft under his purview.

"Being around the [soldiers] and working a 9-to-5 job as a civilian is different," he said. "When you are working as a civilian, nine times out of 10, the people you work with don't associate with [you] off the job. Whenever your shift is done, you are on your way."

Jones said he started to miss the camaraderie and sense of family that comes with military service. Diane could also sense that her husband missed his old life.

"When he retired, I did not think that he would serve again," she said, "but it wasn't long before I knew that he missed it and regretted retiring."

Walter and Diane, who just celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary, grew up in military families. Both of their fathers served in the Air Force.

"To be honest, I had missed the military also," Diane said. "Growing up in the Air Force, the military is all we both had ever known."

In 2004, Jones decided it was time to make a change. He made a plan and decided to talk to Diane about the financial benefits of going back to active duty service.

"I get emotional when I think about it," Walter said. "She looked me in the eyes and said, 'You want to fly again.' If I ever mention going contract maintenance overseas again, she will say no. But I can deploy as many times as I want. She is a military wife all the way through."

Walter applied to come back on active duty through the voluntary recall program. One of the forms he was had to fill out was the Army "dream sheet," for his assignment preferences. When asked to fill out his top three choices, he had one place he wanted to go: Fort Campbell.

"I told them it was 101st -- no ifs, ands or buts about it," Jones said. In January 2005, he went to the replacement company at Fort Campbell and was sent to his unit -- the same unit he had served in almost 30 years before. It was something he did not expect to happen.

"When I came back in, I did not ask for any unit in particular. I just wanted to get back into the air assault, back into the 'Hawks, flying again," he said. "Whoever did it, I thank them." It was a homecoming for Jones, and he said he could not have been happier about it.

Having served with the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade for the past seven years, Jones has deployed with the unit four times. This current deployment is his third to Afghanistan.

With 32 years of active duty service under his belt, Jones said not much has changed since his days of serving in Vietnam.

"I look back, and the biggest difference is that the equipment and technology is so much more complicated," he said. "I think it was a simpler time back then. Young soldiers have to be a lot smarter to do the same job we did back then. I admire these young soldiers so much for what they are dealing and working with."

Diane said she’s glad her husband is continuing his service.

"He has been happy being back in the Army and doing a job that he loves," she said. "I am happy that he has been able to do what he loves."

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