EAGLE — Lt. Col. Anthony Somogyi, of the Colorado Army National Guard, hadn’t even flown a mission but when he uncovered his dream task — the High Altitude Aviation Training Site on the Eagle County Regional Airport.
Pam Boyd, Vail Every day
Lt. Col. Anthony Somogyi and his spouse Korey pose with a few of the plane on the High Altitude Aviation Training Site in Gypsum. After a 20-year army profession and 12 years at HAATS, Somogyi retired final week.
The age-old profitable mixture of exhausting work and good luck helped make Somogyi’s dream come true and for the previous 12 years he has proudly served at HAATS, first as government officer and later as the location commander. Final week, he formally retired after 20 years of army service throughout a ceremony that was bittersweet for Somogyi, his household by blood and his household by service, the Vail Day by day reported.
Somogyi is just the fifth officer to command HAATS.
“That is basically unheard of for a military unit,” Somogyi stated.
However then, HAATS isn’t your common army task.
“I never got sick of flying in the training area, not once,” stated Somogyi throughout his retirement ceremony. “But the thing I will miss the most is the soldiers. This place is what it is because of you.”
Somogyi is a Western Slope native son who grew up in Palisade.
“I wanted to fly helicopters since I was a little kid,” he stated.
An early flight expertise solidified that want. He recalled how one chilly spring, Clark Orchards employed a helicopter to hover over a distant orchard to push down hotter air in an effort to save lots of the peach crop. Somogyi’s dad wrangled a journey for his son, however timing was a problem — the helicopter flight would make him late for college.
“The pilot said ‘I’ll just drop you off at school,’” Somogyi stated. “I remember going into the office and saying ‘I’m sorry I’m late, I just flew in.’”
Somogyi went on to attend Palisade High Faculty the place he was a wrestler and the place he met his spouse, Korey. He was desirous about becoming a member of the U.S. Coast Guard, however he couldn’t get an aviation task assure. Ultimately he attended the College of North Dakota on a ROTC/Air Battle Captain scholarship.
He was house on depart from school when he first heard a few helicopter coaching website on the Eagle County Regional Airport. Somogyi was each impressed and discouraged when he beginning wanting into the chance — impressed with the operation and discouraged concerning the odds.
“My dad and I both thought there’s no way I would end up there,” Somogyi stated.
However he did attain out to then-Cmdr. Joel Greatest to ask about an task.
“He wrote me back, and it was the same basic response I have had to send out to kids over the years,” Somogyi stated.
Principally, Greatest informed Somogyi thanks for the curiosity however warned him there weren’t many openings obtainable at HAATS.
After school commencement, Somogyi was assigned to Fort Rucker, Alabama, and he and Korey have been married. His subsequent transfer was to Fort Hood, Texas, the place he was a platoon chief. His subsequent task took him throughout the globe.
Somogyi was deployed to Iraq in 2003.
His deployment got here simply after U.S. troops had taken Baghdad.
“It was before car bombs were a big deal and IEDs were a big deal,” he stated. “The rules of engagement were wide open. The flying was so demanding and it was so much fun.”
That deployment lasted for eight months. After he returned house, he enrolled in his captain profession programs, one thing he had postpone twice however wanted to finish to additional his army profession. Seems, his timing was impeccable as a result of shortly after he left Iraq, the army prolonged the deployment phrases to 15 months.
That point in Iraq was exceptionally robust for the Somogyi household.
“While I was in Iraq, there were no internet satellites set up and there were no phones,” he stated.
What’s extra, there was a three-month delay in common mail. He recalled getting a letter from Korey saying their toddler daughter had suffered a concussion, however he had no means of understanding how critical the damage was.
After finishing his captain’s course at Fort Rucker, Somogyi completed up his eight-year Army profession at Fort Polk in Louisiana and Fort Lewis in Washington state. After eight years as a pilot, Somogyi was taking a look at flying a desk as an alternative of a helicopter if he continued as an lively obligation Army officer.
“He’s not happy if he isn’t flying,” Korey Somogyi stated.
Anthony Somogyi figured he would transition into the civilian world and grow to be a medical helicopter pilot. However whereas he was winding up his lively obligation profession, Somogyi impressed a National Guard basic who urged him to think about a full-time Guard posting. Upon listening to that the Somogyis needed to return to western Colorado, that basic put in a very good phrase at HAATS.
Greatest and Government Officer Josh Day, who would ultimately take over as HAATS commander, determined to take an opportunity on Somogyi and invited him to take the one-week HAATS coaching course.
“That was my job interview, basically,” Somogyi stated.
He stated pilot teacher Carl Grey put him via the paces to ensure his flying expertise have been as much as snuff and between his flying and his bonding with Greatest due to their shared highschool wresting experiences, Somogyi was assigned to HAATS in December 2006.
In its 32 years of operation, HAATS has grow to be a famend program that gives a singular coaching methodology based mostly on plane energy. Often known as Energy Administration, the coaching course of requires energy accountability of the pilots in all flight regimes. The mountain coaching space enhances the Energy Administration course of and in addition supplies excessive altitude and tough terrain coaching. It’s the solely Division of Protection aviation faculty that trains pilots to expertise this outdoors of the classroom.
The varsity caters to army helicopter pilots from everywhere in the world, with a one-week course for U.S. army pilots and a two-week course for overseas pilots.
The HAATS contingent consists of 31 troopers, 4 contract instructors and one Coast Guard teacher. In the course of the course of a calendar yr, roughly 380 pilots will undergo the coaching.
Throughout all of these coaching flights and all of his years of lively obligation, Somogyi has been concerned in only one helicopter accident. It occurred on Feb. 23, 2007.
“I hadn’t been here very long and we had two exchange officers from India,” Somogyi stated.
The HAATS crew figured the Indian pilots can be accustomed to excessive altitude procedures, however they later came upon there was an enormous distinction between flying within the Himalayas and flying within the Rockies.
An Indian officer was piloting the helicopter and each Somogyi and Day have been driving alongside when wind circumstances contributed to a crash within the Deep Creek space. Somogyi recollects hanging the wrong way up by his seatbelt following the crash, however amazingly, nobody sustained critical accidents.
Afterward, the pilot requested Somogyi if it was his first crash. “He said ‘This is eight for me.’”
Korey Somogyi has her personal recollection of that day.
“I called Korey afterward, to say we had to take Josh to the hospital because he was in an accident,” Anthony Somogyi stated.
“It was two hours later when he told me he was in the accident, too,” his spouse stated. “As the spouse of a helicopter pilot, you are always scared when they go out to do their job because they are at high risk. You are always worried but you don’t show it. That accident was a reality check because their students are not as qualified as they are.”
However getting their student-pilots to excessive proficiency is what HAATS is all about.
“You can’t put a number on the amount of accidents we have prevented,” Anthony Somogyi famous. “This training saves lives.”
In that very same vein, HAATS has shaped a partnership with Vail Mountain Rescue Group, pioneering a hoist rescue program. Somogyi has flown many search and rescue missions with the entity and his involvement with the rescue group will proceed previous his retirement as a floor volunteer.
“That piece of flying I am going to miss a lot. That’s where you apply everything you are teaching,” he stated.
For the second time, Somogyi was been given a troublesome profession selection. If he needs to maintain flying, he wants to maneuver on.
“I love HAATS, but I know I am not going to be able to stay here forever,” he stated.
If he needed to proceed his Guard profession, he must transfer to a desk task. As an alternative, he’s retiring with 20 years of service and beginning a brand new profession as a civilian business pilot.
“Never, in a million years, would I have thought I would fly for the airlines,” he stated.
Somogyi might be piloting jets for United Categorical, stationed out of Denver. The Somogyi household will proceed to make their house in Gypsum.
On Nov. 16 a gaggle of army and native officers and HAATS troops gathered within the helicopter bay in Gypsum to formally have fun Somogyi’s retirement. They shared some critical tales and a few humorous reminiscences. They honored not solely Somogyi’s 12 years of HAATS service, but in addition Korey Somogyi’s devotion and the sacrifices made by his daughters, Noelle and Andee, who needed to share their dad together with his army duties.
Just like the 4 commanders earlier than him, Anthony Somogyi has left an indelible mark on HAATS.
“His drive and his strategic vision has really kept HAATS moving forward,” stated Government Officer Mayor Nicholas Tucker. “We have basically built the military’s mountain flying program.”
Past being an incredible chief, Tucker famous that Somogyi has been a real brother-in-arms. That sentiment is reciprocated.
“You can’t be in same place for 12 years and just cut yourself off. These people are like family,” Korey Somogyi stated.
However as he takes his depart, Anthony Somogyi plans to offer the subsequent commander the identical alternative he was given to make a mark on HAATS.
“I am going to do my best to be like Josh (Day). When he went to Denver he said ‘It’s all yours now,’” Somogyi stated.
Somogyi believes the subsequent commander will quickly come to the identical realization he did.
“In my mind, there is not better place to work in the entire Department of Defense,” he stated.
Info from: Vail Day by day, http://www.vaildaily.com/