By Army Sgt. Duncan Brennan
101st Combat Aviation Brigade
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (11/9/12) --Things and people that are constant fixtures in life often get taken for granted. In the Army, everything changes eventually.
In the aviation units of the Ohio National Guard, there has been one person who has become all but permanent.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Blaine Wykoff, B Company, 3rd Battalion, 238th Aviation Regiment pilot, a native of Akron, has made himself part of the Ohio Army National Guard for decades.
Wyckoff started his military career when he enlisted into the Ohio Air National Guard in 1972.
In those 40 years of service, Wyckoff commissioned in 1976 and rose to the rank of colonel in July 2002. In June 2006, Wyckoff hit his mandatory removal date. Thirty years had elapsed since his commission date. His options were to retire, accept nomination to brigadier general, or take an administrative reduction. Wyckoff's love of flying helicopters made his decision for him.
"I still enjoy being in the Guard and I still love to fly," he said. "I have flown the UH-1H 'Huey,' the AH-1 Cobra, the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior and the CH-47D Chinook. I can tell you right now that if I wasn't flying, I wouldn't be in the military anymore."
With Wyckoff being such a fixture in the Ohio National Guard, especially after his time as commander of the Army Aviation Support Facility in Columbus from December 1997 to June 2002, many were surprised when then Col. Wyckoff, took an administrative reduction to chief warrant officer. Those who had worked with him the longest understood the decision.
"It was not a shock to me when Mr. Wyckoff took the reduction," said Sgt. 1st Class Dale Benedetti, B, 3-238th maintenance platoon sergeant, a native of Beloit, Ohio. "I have worked with Mr. Wyckoff since he was a lieutenant, back in 1983. It was the only way he could continue to fly."
Flying may have kept Wyckoff in the National Guard, but his presence and leadership have rippled across four decades of service. Today, his leadership and experience inspire respect, even in those who do not work closely with him.
"I only have casual contact with Mr. Wyckoff," said Spc. Pam Howe, D Company, 3-238th, CH-47 Chinook mechanic, a native of Akron. "Being around him, your integrity kicks in a little more. Wyckoff is relaxed, but you want to be on your best behavior around him."
Even those who have worked with him long term have come to appreciate Wyckoff's leadership style. From the junior enlisted to senior non-commissioned officers, there is a sense of deep respect for his expertise and guidance.
"He's been a mentor to a lot of people," said Benedetti. "I've never questioned his morals, integrity or his leadership once. The junior enlisted have nothing but respect for Mr. Wyckoff because he walks the walk."
Everywhere Wyckoff has influence, the undercurrent of his career is felt. As a chief warrant officer versus a colonel, the tone of that influence is tempered by the relationships he cultivates.
"I've worked with Mr. Wyckoff for about a year," said Sgt. Brandon Robb, B 3-238th Chinook flight engineer, a native of Akron. "He's looked at as a mentor. I've learned how to be a better person and a better NCO working with him. It's been an absolute pleasure to serve with Chief Warrant Officer Wyckoff on his last big hurrah."
As Wyckoff's career comes to a close, his sense of leadership still permeates everything he does. Despite the length and gravity of his career, he connects to his crew on a more intimate manner. This style is not lost on his current crew.
"I've gotten to see more of the personal side to Mr. Wyckoff," said Sgt. 1st Class Mike Seruch, B 3-238th door gunner, a native of Sebring, Ohio. "I've gotten to know 'Blaine' versus 'Col. Wyckoff.' I've gotten to see the fun, knowledgeable and mentoring side of Mr. Wyckoff. It's been a pleasure working with him personally and professionally."
With all the lives that Wyckoff has touched, personally and professionally, there is a certain bitter sweetness to this deployment.
Wyckoff will retire in January 2013. His awards include the Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal, Joint Service Commendation Medal, the Army Achievement Medal. From the perspective of his fellow soldiers, it is not the awards and decorations that they will remember; it will be the mentor, leader and guidance that will stand out above everything else.
"We're both retiring in January," said Benedetti. "A lot of people will miss his leadership and mentorship. I'm going to miss working with him, and I hope to continue our friendship."