Special Note from Jamie: Thanks to everyone at Fort Rucker and to Gen. Richard Cody for helping us put this exclusive story together. Also, my own shout out to Melanie Schuman, who produced the Apache helicopter piece.
I've always considered every invitation to witness a military operation or event up-close an honor. Sure, you hear a lot about what the military does, and accusations of what it doesn't do, but to truly appreciate the service and sacrifice, you have to see it firsthand. So, when I was invited to join the Army's Vice Chief General Richard Cody for the official naming of the latest addition to the Army's aviation fleet, I had to accept.
What made this invitation especially enticing was that General Cody, a four-star general and master aviator, would personally fly me and my crew in the new UH-72a light utility helicopter.
I have to be honest. Some ladies like shopping, but I'll take flying in an Army aircraft anytime, especially with someone like General Cody. Just search the web for him, and you'll be overwhelmed by his military credentials — his service to our country spans more than 35 years, and he's rated in 19 different aircraft. His love of flying must be hereditary, because both of his sons are Apache pilots for the U.S. Army (he's allowed me to share a photo). • Check out Jamie's photos
General Cody also played a key role in the creation of the UH-72a chopper. Back in 2004, there were ambitious plans for the Army to build a rotary wing aircraft, known as the Comanche. As it turned out — and this is a constant in military combat — the needs of the Army's aviation wing changed. Recognizing this, General Cody testified before Congress, requesting a reallocation of funds and the Army began developing the UH-72a, a helicopter he says was just what the Army needed — not only for combat but also to save lives in a domestic disaster.
I flew from Andrews Air Force base to Columbus, Mississippi, with General Cody and his staff. Columbus is home to the EADs Corporation, which built the UH-72a. At the EADs plant, there was a spiritual dedication, in which the UH-72a was christened the "Lakota" (all but one of the Army's chopper fleet are named after Native American tribes).
I hope you never need to see the Lakota up close, responding to a MEDEVAC call or supplies delivery in a domestic disaster. But if you do, you'll see the best aviation the Army has to offer. The military is always evolving, moving forward, incorporating lessons learned and working to make us more secure at home and bring freedom overseas. You're not likely hearing enough of the good news about our military and how it is changing and adapting to meet the needs of this war, but the Lakota is proof of that innovative spirit — going from concept to completion in a mere 24 months.
And speaking of what the Army has to offer — it didn't take long for General Cody to figure out just how deeply interested I am in military aviation. I mentioned to him that someday I'd like to fly in an Apache, something I knew most Generals would not even get the chance to do. But hey, a girl can dream, can't she? Thanks to General Cody, my flight orders came through! I got to see and feel Apache combat maneuvers firsthand.
The flight was amazing, not just because of the thrill of being in such a fierce fighter chopper, but also because of the pilot of the Apache — someone I’d met three years earlier.
Chief Warrant Officer Dave Williams was one of two 1st Cavalry Apache pilots shot down and captured by Iraqi insurgents back in 2003. I was in Fort Hood, Texas at that time, reporting on the first deployment of our troops. Dave and his co-pilot's hostage video was the first airing on Iraqi television, and at the time, this was a new and frightening sight to Americans. I watched and waited for three weeks with Dave's wife, Michelle, and prayed for his safe return. Michelle was a devoted soldier herself and a Blackhawk pilot.
When U.S. Marines rescued Dave in Samarra, I was with Michelle to receive the good news, and we have all stayed very close. Now, Dave and Michelle live near Fort Rucker, Alabama — the home of Army aviation — where I was being "deployed" for my Apache flight.
Chief Warrant Officer and former POW Dave Williams got this plum assignment. Now, he’s an Instructor Pilot at Fort Rucker. When I arrived, it was an emotional reunion — not just for me — but also for Dave and Michelle. Colonel James McConville was Michelle’s Commander at Fort Rucker and Dave served in Special Operations under General Cody (check out the photo).
Many people forget this is an all-volunteer Army. Those who serve aren't required to — yet, every day each and every one of them put their lives on the line.
War has never been a pretty business, and this war especially presents new challenges. So, before you decide what's going wrong with our country's fight for our homeland security, or whether the military is doing a good job — take time to go up to someone in uniform and ask his or her opinion on the war.
Go a step further, and send a shout out to the troops at email@example.com, or make a donation to a charity that supports the troops, and let them know you appreciate their service, not just during the holidays, but all year long.
Jamie Colby joined FOX News Channel (FNC) in July 2003 and currently serves as a news correspondent and anchor of "FOX News Live" on Saturdays and Sundays (2 p.m. – 3 p.m. ET). She anchored coverage of the passing of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI from Rome. You can read her complete bio here.