- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 8, 2005


Skimming low over hills in eastern Afghanistan, the 11 Marines packed into an Army Black Hawk helicopter asked for an exciting flight on an otherwise dull mission, demonstrating for visiting dignitaries how troops are sped into battle.

“Fly hard,” the Marines asked. The cockpit responded, “You asked for it.”

Climbing and swooping, the Black Hawk pilot crested a 400-foot hill then deliberately nosed into a dive so steep and abrupt that everyone inside felt weightless. A wheel chock rose off the floor like a magician’s prop and flew forward into the cockpit, jamming the controls.

A horrific, tumbling crash followed.

Sgt. Daniel Galvan, 30, a crew chief in the doorway, died. Everyone else was injured, and the $6 million helicopter was destroyed.

The accident last summer was among the latest in a series of exasperating crashes in the military that was blamed on recklessness, not enemy gunfire or faulty equipment.

The pilot in Afghanistan, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Darrin Raymond Rogers, 37, of Mililani, Hawaii, pleaded guilty last week at his court-martial to charges of negligent homicide, reckless endangerment, property destruction and failure to obey orders.

“I’m not a bad person,” Chief Warrant Officer Rogers told the judge. He acknowledged that he was “trying to impress the guys in the back.” Chief Warrant Officer Rogers was sentenced to 120 days without pay at Fort Leavenworth military prison in Kansas. He must retire from the Army, but will retain his pension.

“There’s a difference between aggressiveness and recklessness,” said Richard A. Cody, a four-star general who holds the Army’s No. 2 job. “We want them to be aggressive but also disciplined.”

Some pilots bristle over challenges to how they fly, says a retired Marine Corps judge.

“Hot-dogging is not necessarily negligent,” said Patrick McLain of Dallas, who presided at courts-martial. “You need a person who’s bold and daring and courageous. It rubs against the grain to have this sort of nitpicking oversight.”

A retired Marine fighter pilot, Kris Elliott of New Orleans, said: “Anybody who says they haven’t hot-dogged as a pilot probably isn’t being truthful.”

Reckless accidents, which happen every year, frustrate senior military commanders because these typically occur during training flights and are considered easily avoidable. Air Force crews are encouraged to announce, “Knock it off,” when a pilot begins to fly unsafely.

“There will be repercussions,” the head of Army aviation, Brig. Gen. E.J. Sinclair, said in an interview with the Associated Press. “If someone goes out there and does that and it’s observed, I usually hear about it from another pilot.”

At the same time, Gen. Sinclair said, the Army is rewriting rules to specify which maneuvers are allowed and teaching pilots aggressive new aerial techniques that push helicopters closer to their engineering design limits.

“We make it very clear, this is not something you go out and do on your own,” Gen. Sinclair said.

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