By Carolyn Poirot
“Army aviation is relentlessly focused on and dedicated to honoring a sacred trust with commanders and soldiers on the ground,” said Maj. Gen. Kevin Mangum, Army aviation branch chief and commander of the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker, Ala. “Army aviation has always meant that help was on the way,” Mangum said in his opening address at the 2013 Army Aviation Association of America (AAAA) annual professional forum and exposition in Fort Worth on April 10-13. The Army’s aviation branch has only been in existence 30 years and “we’ve been in combat at least 20 of those 30 years,” Mangum noted. “We need to be prepared for our next conflict because it is for sure just around the corner.” Mangum spoke on moving away from nearly a dozen years as an army at war and toward becoming once again “an army preparing for war.” The transition is critical, particularly with all the current and looming budget restraints in place as the military works to build capability at the best value, he said. “We have to get it just right. We can’t afford ‘too much,’ but we are building the very best aviation force that we can afford, getting that all right in these days of declining and restrained resources,” Mangum said. “We have to look at what we need and can afford. … We have been ready at any cost for the last 10 years. Now we must look at readiness at the best value. … What can we afford to sustain with all the fiscal uncertainties?” Mangum predicted that U.S. Army aviation in the future will be a 60/40 mix of manned and unmanned aircraft. “We have learned so much about unmanned aircraft systems. Manned/unmanned teaming will be a game changer, and we are just starting to scratch the surface,” he said. “It’s too early to do a happy dance in the end zone, but we are continuing to move the ball,” Mangum told his audience of Army friends, industry partners, allies and soldiers. Among his listeners were five generals from Saudi Arabia and several from the Netherlands and United Arab Emirates and hundreds of people from across the country, including several busloads of soldiers from Fort Hood and company representatives from about 275 defense-related businesses and industries. During the event, the Fort Worth Convention Center was filled with helicopters, simulators, military weapons, a machine-gun-equipped jeep, fuel and energy systems, communication and navigation systems (including several kinds of Situational Awareness Kneeboard Tablets), low-light cameras and binocular goggles and mockups and prototypes of future aviation systems, including vertical lift and unmanned aircraft. Bell Helicopter, Lockheed Martin, Textron, Boeing, Sikorsky, Northrop Grumman, North Star Aviation and DynCorp International were among the industry exhibitors. AAAA – or Quad A as it is called – was organized 50 years ago, 20 years before the Army had an official aviation branch, “to support the U.S. Army aviation soldier and family.” It includes more than 20,000 members and industry partners, according to Gen. James Thurman, commander of the United Nations Command/Combined Forces Command, who introduced a video celebrating the 60th anniversary of the end of hostilities in Korea in 1953. Thurman and Brig. Gen. Jessica Wright, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, gave their messages by video this year because of sequestration, the across-the-board federal spending cuts. A highlight of the convention was the presentation of national awards to active army aviators and some $336,000 in scholarships to more than 200 active-duty, reserve, former and retired army aviators and their spouses, children and grandchildren.
The AAAA Scholarship Foundation, celebrating its 50th anniversary, has presented more than $5 million in scholarships to more than 3,000 students over the last 50 years.