JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. - Having a brother can be an adventure. Big brothers are always showing off. Little brothers are always tagging along. And brothers fight. All the time.
For brothers Noel and Justin Larson, growing up was no different.
"We fought constantly as children — our poor mother. At the same time, we always had each other's back," Noel said. "We could have a knock-down fight one minute and the next minute be building a fort together."
Their competitive nature brought out the drive to be successful and made the afternoon of Feb. 11, 2017, special for the Larson brothers. With more than 54 years of combined military service, 10,000 flying hours and multiple overseas deployments, Noel and Justin Larson were promoted to Chief Warrant Officer 5 (CW5) and Chief Warrant Officer 4 (CW4) respectively during a short and casual ceremony at the Army Aviation Support Facility on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
"I have known Justin and Noel for years," said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Teresa Burgess, command chief warrant officer, Washington National Guard. I have been blessed to have flown with them stateside and in Iraq. While Noel flew special operations flights, Justin was there when I took off and when I landed ensuring my aircraft was properly maintained and ready to go for the next crew. That always meant a lot to me."
Noel Larson is a year and four months younger than his older brother and joined the Washington National Guard in 1988. He graduated flight school in 1995.
"Justin had a bigger passion [for aviation growing up] and it was contagious; the bug got me." said Noel, aviation standardization officer, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 66th Theater Aviation Command.
Justin took a different path to the helicopter cockpit. He joined the Marine Corps in 1988 before joining the Washington National Guard in 2000.
"We've always loved aviation," said Justin, aviation material officer, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 168th Aviation Regiment. "We just didn't know how we wanted to go about it in the beginning."
On any given day, the brothers can be seen diligently providing support for the state's hectic aviation mission. Noel could be on one side of the building training the future UH-60 Black Hawk pilots coming in to the organization while Justin could be in the maintenance bay ripping apart and putting back together the same helicopters that the brothers have flown for years.
"I work on training pilots and I break stuff, my brother fixes the stuff and takes it on check rides to verify it works properly," Noel said.
For the last 17 years, the Larson brothers have been counted on to provide critical support to the state of Washington during many emergency response missions. Both brothers flew missions in Louisiana after the destruction of Hurricane Katrina/Rita. They provided support in the aftermath of the State Route 530 landslide and have flown numerous missions dealing with floods and fires throughout the state.
It's the work the brothers have done while deployed that has given them national recognition.
On the night of March 25, 2008, while deployed to an undisclosed location, Noel was the pilot and mission coordinator on board a UH-60 Black Hawk. The helicopter was configured to perform reconnaissance in direct support of a raid being conducted by coalition forces.
During planning, it became evident that poor weather was going to limit the number of air assets able to support the mission, but the command determined that the mission would proceed. As Noel and his crew arrived over the objective, the restricted visibility from a dust storm made it difficult to gain the normal levels of situational awareness. Despite the added difficulty, Noel directed a detailed and methodical reconnaissance of the objective area and wrote a succinct report that allowed the ground force, now moving into the area, to better understand the terrain and enemy situation.
As the ground forces dismounted, the enemy opened fire and the assault force took immediate casualties.
"As soon as they started taking fire, we were going over our options on how we could help them," Noel said. "My aircraft was already in the air and the medical aircraft couldn't get into the air so my team and I landed to help the wounded."
From the citation: "Through skillful use of the sensors and in concert with impeccable crew coordination, Noel Larson and the aircrew were able to guide the assault force to the selected landing zone while simultaneously maneuvering the aircraft through numerous hazards to include enemy fire and into the landing zone on their first attempt. This excellence in airmanship provided the best possible opportunity for the wounded Soldiers' survival."
For his heroic actions and operating his aircraft while under heavy enemy fire, Noel earned the Distinguished Flying Cross. This is awarded to a member of the U.S. armed forces who distinguishes him or herself by heroism or extraordinary achievement in an aerial flight undertaken voluntarily and beyond the call of duty.
While Noel has been recognized for his accomplishments in the air, Justin continues to break records and be recognized for his work fixing the helicopters that they fly.
"Justin's proactive nature in getting broken aircraft fixed during deployment has set a national record for getting aircraft back in the air," said Brig. Gen. Wallace Turner, the assistant adjutant general, Washington Army National Guard. "He's one of the best test pilots in the nation."
With so many accolades and military honors bestowed upon them, the brothers, ever humble, continue to give their support to Washington aviation and each other day in and day out.
"It was pretty awesome [being promoted together] I think we can both say that it is nice to see your siblings succeed and in this case it was simultaneous reward," Noel said.
Humble and hard-working, the Larson brothers continue to be a staple in the Washington Army National Guard.
"We are blessed to have two of the hardest working, talented aviators in Washington," Burgess said. "The organization is in good hands with the two of them leading the way in training and maintenance."