Greetings from the Peach State!
As I write this letter, Memorial Day is approaching and I hope you take this time to reflect on your life and remember our fallen DUSTOFF warriors who have made the ultimate sacrifice, whether in combat or in a training environment.
As you all may know, we just recently lost nine C/6-101 DUSTOFF crew members at Fort Campbell on March 29th, 2023, who were training to be prepared to answer our nation’s call if needed. Please join me in remembering these nine heroes and all the ones before them this Memorial Day.
The nine fallen C/6-101 crew members and heroes are: CW3 Zachary Esparza, WO1 Jeffery Barnes, SGT Emilie Bolanos, SGT Isaac John Gayo, SSG Joshua Gore, CW3 Aaron Healy, SSG Taylor Mitchell, CW2 Rusten Smith and SGT David Solinas, Jr.
I am honored to serve as your Executive Director and look forward to the many challenges that lie ahead. As you may know, from the last reunion in February 2023, Chris Wingate moved up to the President position and Pat Zenk has assumed the duties of Vice President. Chris and Pat both bring a wealth of knowledge and ideas to the association. Many of which are in place now.
My first three months at the Executive Director have been fast and furious. I had the opportunity to represent The DUSTOFF Association at the Fort Rucker name change ceremony on April 10th, and watched the Novosel family click the cyclic button and instantaneously change the post’s name to Fort Novosel. I also was able to get some time with the Novosel family and present CW4 Mike Novosel coins to each family member present.
On April 13th, I attended the C/6-101 memorial ceremony, posthumous promotion and awards ceremony for the nine DUSTOFF crew members who lost their lives. I had the Honor to represent The DUSTOFF Association by presenting paver/brick certificates from the AMEDD Museum Foundation purchased by an anonymous donor and member from The DUSTOFF Association. A DUSTOFF Association coin was placed in each of their memorial boxes.
To finish off the month of April, I attended the 2023 Quad-A Summit in Nashville, TN along with COL (Ret) Johnny West, LTC Chris Wingate and COL Dave Zimmerman. We were able to meet so many great people and businesses while there. Highlights of the event were meeting the Army Surgeon General, LTG Scott Dingle and the MEDCOM CSM Diamond Hough who stopped by for a visit. Especially notable and emotional, were visiting with crew members and the commander of C/6-101 who came by the booth to support the association.
We have already begun the process of reserving our booth space for next year’s Quad-A in Denver! Save the dates for April 24-26, 2024.
In my last newsletter article, I mentioned that it’s a great time to be a DUSTOFFer, because we are moving forward with growth in mind. We have a lot of exciting actions and projects underway to make our association better.
Since then, we decentralized the duties of the Executive Director and have brought on some amazing talent! As mentioned in past posts and reunion, COL (Ret) Jack Leech volunteered to become our Treasurer and has completely transitioned to his new responsibilities. Also, MAJ (Ret) Kris Willis, has volunteered to become our new DUSTOFF Store Manager. He has set-up shop at his residence in New York. COL (Ret) Brian Almquist has assumed the duties of our Membership Coordinator, and is currently working on ways to grow our base membership with our younger generation. During this transition, Dan has gracefully offered suggestions and provided advice to our leadership team, ensuring we don’t miss a beat! Thank you, Dan!
We started the year off with our 43rd Annual Reunion in San Antonio, TX! We had a great weekend with golf, bourbon raffle, MECCD Limited Objective Exercise and DUSTOFF Association social at Alamo Café, KIA Memorial dedication ceremony, HOF induction ceremony, professional meeting, Annual Awards ceremony, and farewelled Dan and Suzie Gower for 27 years service to The DUSTOFF Association. What an incredible reunion!
Thanks to COL (Ret) Johnny West, for having a very successful DUSTOFF Rally May 3rd! There were over 30 DUSTOFFers from San Antonio who participated! We are hoping this catches on across the country and at our OCONUS locations!
We’ve began small updates to the website and have added follow-us links to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. We added sponsor logos to the bottom of the front page, with plans to have them linked with a brief description about respective donations and support provided. I created a new HH-60 DUSTOFF Association logo with the help of Chris Wingate and feedback from social media on suggested changes. After about eight changes, we have a final product! We are transitioning the store to a new platform called Shopify and using a website called Printful for print on demand items. We plan to create new DUSTOFF Association digital designs that are clean and fresh, that can be added to many different types of apparel. Be on the lookout for these changes!
Two years ago I shared with everyone some exciting news about one of our new sponsors, Collins Aerospace, represented by George Johnson, who offered and committed to a $5,000 annual donation. This gift goes toward the production of the Aviator of the Year trophy, awardee support for reunion travel, lifetime memberships for all DUSTOFF annual award recipients, and around 24 lifetime memberships for flight school and flight medic course (phase 3) graduates. We are forever grateful!
While at Quad-A this year I had the opportunity to visit with Kurt Mueller, from Air Methods. I thanked him for their continued support with the Flight Medic of the Year Award and for their gracious $5,000 donation to help fund Dan and Suzie’s farewell and operating expenses. Before departing the Air Methods booth, Kurt promised to continue the $5,000 donation annually for the association to use at our discretion. You can imaging how excited and grateful I was for this incredible donation! I also had the opportunity to visit with Mike Mudd from Sikorsky and with Dave Creech and Christine Hawk from Breeze Eastern!
I also had the opportunity to speak with other companies about potential sponsorships. Between Chris and I, we are building relationships for future lifelong friendships with some amazing companies.
We are well underway at planning for the 44th Annual Reunion, which will be in San Antonio, TX at the Holiday Inn – Riverwalk on 21-24 March, 2024. We will open registration in January 2024. As you know, the Riverwalk is a wonderful place to eat and socialize! We look forward to seeing you there!
For the 45th DUSTOFF Association reunion in 2025, we are looking at having it in the DC area to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. More to follow!
In June, we will release the instructions for our annual awards program for DUSTOFF Rescue of the Year, Aviator of the Year, Flight Medic/Paramedic of the Year and Crew Chief of the Year. Please be looking for this post!
Currently, COL (Ret) Bob Mitchell, our Hall of Fame Committee Chair is working on nominations to be presented to the Executive Council for a vote! Thanks for his continued support with this program!
As I like to say…We are America’s DUSTOFF and we should all be proud of this distinction! We have provided first-class MEDEVAC support to America’s fighting forces, in peacetime and war, for over 70 years. We are a precious group of people and we should never forget it. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your service and sacrifice to our country. Also, let’s never forget, the men and women who have selflessly given all in support of people they may not have ever known.