Rotors to Wings: from Vietnam to OIF, this veteran flyer has flown them all

 

By SPC Akanewich, - Published - Aug 10, 2004

   

Chief Warrant Officer Grant Pearsoll inspects one of the engines on a C-12 aircraft.

Photo by Spc Scott Akanewich

Chief Warrant Officer Grant Pearsoll inspects one of the engines on a C-12 aircraft. 

SOUTHWEST ASIA-- Chief Warrant Officer Grant Pearsoll has always been about duty, honor and country. In fact, his devotion to those three things has carried the 55-year old Utah National Guard pilot through a military career spanning 37 years.

He has flown a variety of Army aircraft over places ranging from Vietnam three decades ago to Southwest Asia today. Pearsoll has continued to serve his country long after most of his contemporaries have hung up their flight suits because he still enjoys what he does, even after all these years.

“I’ve flown terrific equipment,” said Pearsoll, who now flies C-12s out of an undisclosed air base. “Also, much of it is the social aspect. So many of my friends are in. I just look forward to going to drill.”

It’s often been said that everything happens for a reason and for Pearsoll, a chain of events that took place in Mayville, N.Y., Aug. 22, 1967, began his long military journey. “I had an older brother who didn’t drive who wanted to enlist, so I drove him to the recruiter’s office,” he said. While waiting for his brother, he found himself transfixed by a poster on the office’s wall. It depicted a UH-1 Iroquois helicopter, commonly known as the “Huey.” One of the recruiters noticed his fascination and asked the 17-year-old Pearsoll how old he was, followed by a question that changed the course of his life. “How would you like to fly one of those?” asked the recruiter. The Army got two new recruits that day, instead of only one. “We both joined the Army the same day,” said Pearsoll.

After flight school, he was off to Vietnam, where he flew approximately 500 missions during his tour there, many of them in harm’s way. “More than half of my missions were in and out of landing zones,” he said.

To Pearsoll and his fellow pilots, the war in Vietnam provided a new challenge to the Army in how that particular conflict was fought using air assault assets for the first time. “Vietnam was called a helicopter war and that was a breakthrough,” he said. To this day, Pearsoll has a soft spot in his heart for the aircraft he flew through those valleys. “The Huey got me out of a lot of tough scrapes,” he said. “It hung in there and took a lot of damage.” However, if he had to fly into a hostile area today, he would prefer the UH-60 Black Hawk, which he flew later in his career. “The Blackhawk does everything well,” said Pearsoll. “Because of technological advances, it’s much more capable, with features such as multiple engines that allows it to take a lot more battle damage.”

 A proud military heritage doesn’t just stretch across the decades for Pearsoll himself. His four sons also serve America. The oldest, Christopher, 30, works in the intelligence field for the Navy, while Adam, 27, is a loadmaster in the Air Force. Last, but not least, are twin Marines Joe and Steve, 23, who are a flight mechanic and explosive ordinance disposal technician, respectively.

All four have joined their father by serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom, with as many as three of them in theater at once. “They grew up with the military,” said Pearsoll, who added with a laugh regarding the diversity of service branches represented in the family tree. “We’ve got all the bases covered.” This is literally a band of brothers – and a father. “Serving together creates more of a bond,” said Pearsoll, who recently had an opportunity to visit with Joe as the latter was passing through Kuwait while re-deploying.

Today, Pearsoll’s days are filled with the bright, blue desert skies of the Middle East. He flies support missions for Coalition Forces Land Component Command, primarily back and forth to and from Central Command headquarters in Qatar. Although flying planes doesn’t hold the same allure for him as his rotary-wing days, it has given him an opportunity to extend what has been and continues to be a fulfilling career. “I enjoy the people and the mission,” said Pearsoll, whose background extends to his civilian job as a safety inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration. However, he still yearns for the rough and tumble world of his earlier career.

 “I love helicopters because of the action,” said Pearsoll. Chief Warrant Officer Kenny Swaitches, Arizona National Guard, is a fellow pilot and Vietnam veteran who works with Pearsoll and is quick to point out what his comrade offers the group. “He brings a lot of experience and perspective to the job,” said Swaitches, who added that Pearsoll’s personality is useful when it comes to some of their passengers. “I think he’s very personable and outgoing. He likes to meet people, which comes in handy with the VIPs.”

There’s one other thing that tells you what kind of Soldier Pearsoll is. He could have retired before deploying and not found himself flying over the windswept, barren expanses of this faraway part of the world. He could be back in Park City, Utah, enjoying spending time with his wife, knowing that only his sons were carrying on his legacy of duty, honor and country. But that wouldn’t sit too well with Pearsoll. “You don’t retire in the face of a deployment,” he said. “When you sign up and raise your right hand, it’s like marriage. It’s for better or worse.”

As for how much longer his Army career will last, Pearsoll will know when that time arrives, but it’s not here yet. “I’m going to stay as long as I enjoy it,” he said. “As long as I’m having fun.”