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Story by: Sgt. Jonathan Monfiletto - 42nd Combat Aviation Brigade
Dated: Thu, May 19, 2016
ROCHESTER Though it officially began in 1989, Sgt. 1st Class John Bobeck feels his New York Army National Guard aviation career really began on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists attacked New York City and Washington.
“That day changed our lives in the Guard,” Bobeck said. “We knew that we were going to be into a more interesting future with this terrorism threat. Every challenge that was brought to us, we did it, so it was a great career.”
On the day of the terrorist attacks , Bobeck, now a flight engineer with B Company B, 3rd Battalion, 126th Aviation Regiment, was on the road hauling away an old helicopter due to be decommissioned.
Bobeck said they heard a report on the radio that planes crashed into the New York City buildings, and at first, they thought it was a joke or an accident. When they stopped at a truck stop, they saw the footage on television and could not believe what they saw.
After 27 years, that career which included two overseas deployments and three stateside activations after Sept. 11, 2001 came to an end Saturday, May 14. To salute that day, Bobeck took his last flight aboard a CH-47 Chinook helicopter during a scheduled training flight.
For that flight, the Chinook took off from the Army Aviation Support Facility in Rochester and flew over his house in Brockport, where the flight engineer waved out the open aircraft door to friends and family on the ground. Then the CH-47 flew along the southern shore of Lake Ontario and over Fort Niagara and Niagara Falls.
The Chinook then flew over two more homes in West Seneca those of Bobeck’s mother and girlfriend where he once again saluted the people on the ground before travelling back to Rochester. There the flight engineer was greeted with a fire department water salutetrucks spraying water over the helicopter-- and a crowd of B company soldiers in the hangar.
“It was a long 27 years but a fun 27 years,” Bobeck said.
“It went by fast. You don’t think about it. You’re goal is 10 years and then 15 and then 20 years. … Over time, aviation beats you up a little bit with the deployments. I’m just ready to call it quits after 27 years. Time to move on and start another chapter,” he added.
The chapter that just ended began in 1989, when Bobeck followed his two brothers one who is now a brigadier general and the other who served as a chief warrant officer in the military. He initially wanted to be a tanker, but one of his brothers was in aviation and recommend he go into that field.
“Once I saw the first helicopter, the first Huey, I fell in love with aviation,” Bobeck said. “Twenty seven years later, I’m still working on them.”
He started out as a Huey mechanic and remained in aviation but worked with a few different aircraft throughout his career moving from UH-1 “Huey” cargo helicopters to AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters when the Niagara Falls flight facility closed and the unit moved to Rochester then to Apaches briefly before the unit transitioned to Chinooks in 2002.
“I wish we’d had Chinooks when I joined because they’re such a great aircraft,” Bobeck said.
“I love the Huey. The Huey’s a great aircraft, but these CH-47s are awesome. You can do a lot with them. You can take anything, pick up anything. If it can fit inside, we can take it. It’s just amazing the amount of equipment you can put inside this,” he said.
With B Company and its Chinooks, Bobeck served two tours of duty of Afghanistan to Bagram in 2007-08 and to Kandahar in 2012-13.
During the Bagram deployment, the unit earned the Army Aviation Unit of the Year Award, which the flight engineer said was “quite an honor” for himself and the unit.
“Just being overseas, it was a good feeling bringing people back from their bases back to the main airfield so they can go home,” Bobeck said. “But, on the flipside of that, taking the new guys back out to the field to their FOBs for the next year, it’s just a mission that you’ve got to do and you don’t think about it.”
Bobeck served his fellow Americans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Hurricane Rita also in 2005 and Hurricane Gustav in 2008.
“What a great experience, helping our own people,” he said. “We used to land in these places out in the middle of nowhere, and people would rush us helping us to unload the aircraft, and they’d be giving us food too. We’re like, ‘We don’t want your food. You guys have your own food. You keep it.’ … It was great to help our own people because they appreciate it.”
For Bobeck, serving in the military has been about family in the literal sense, as his two brothers also served, and in the figurative sense, as the soldiers he met along the way became like family to him.
One of those figurative family members is Capt. Benjamin Postle, one of the pilots for Bobeck’s final flight. Postle, who said he first met Bobeck in 2008 when the pilot first entered aviation, called the flight engineer “a no-nonsense NCO.”
“If something absolutely has to get done, he’s the guy to get it done,” Postle said. “It’s really easy to get along with the guy. He’s a consummate professional. As far as accomplishing aviation duties and the atmosphere he creates in the aircraft, it’s second to none. It’s definitely bittersweet. We wish him all the best in his future endeavors, but we hate to see him go.”
Staff Sgt. Daniel Herley, a fellow flight engineer whom Bobeck mentored since they first met in 2003, spoke about a little known piece of Bobeck’s career the Chinook scenes in the National Geographic documentaries “Restrepo” and “Korengal” depict a flight crew that included Bobeck and Herley.
“We were out there throughout that whole time that he (filmmaker Sebastian Junger) was out there,” Herley said. “We flew out there. We supported those guys. Every one of those Chinook scenes that you saw in ‘Restrepo’ was us. Sgt. 1st Class Bobeck is one of the last of the Korengal vets from our unit.”
Herley said he started working Bobeck when the junior flight engineer was first hired full-time at the flight facility and placed under Bobeck and his crew chief.
“Working directly with him, he’s a very meticulous mechanic,” Herley said. “He coached me up to where I’m at and taught me about attention to detail, signing your work off with pride. Your aircraft reflects your work ethic, and if your aircraft is one of the most reliable flyers, that reflects upon you. That he really drilled into me and emphasized to me, and I try to pass that on to younger generations as well.”
As he walked into the hanger from the flight line one last time, Bobeck met a receiving line of hugs and handshakes from his fellow B company soldiers and then offered some words to the people he considers a second family to him.
“Aviation is such a small family because there’s not a lot of aviation in the country, so you get to know a lot of people throughout the country,” Bobeck said.