Being hours from the nearest military base, the sight of military aircraft buzzing over the city is a rarity, much less that of such aircraft actually landing in the city.
That all changed Thursday afternoon as Merrill High School students and staff, as well as over 50 community members were treated to a visit by a UH-60M Blackhawk transport helicopter arriving at Jay Stadium.
The reason for the arrival of the aircraft-attached to the US Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion-147th Aviation Regiment based out of Madison’s Truax Field-was a coordinated effort by Merrill area recruitment commander Captain Josh Felber and MHS staff, to take four MHS USANG enlistees for a hop around the city.
The aircraft and crew touched down on the turf of Jay Stadium shortly after noon on Thursday, and was soon opened up for display and tours by the four-member crew headed by Felber and including Pilot in Command (PIC) Warrant Officer 2nd Grade Austin Kornov, 1st Lieutenant Michael Riechers (pilot) and Sargent Sarah Bregg (Crew Chief).
Then shortly after 1 pm, the Merrill Foto News joined the crew, recruiting Staff Sargent Scott Doll, as well as MHS Seniors Cole Kleinschmidt, Trevor Asmundsen, Adam Hoy and Morgan Sondelski in boarding the aircraft for the impending flight.
Following a safety briefing and thorough exterior inspection of the aircraft by Bregg, safety harnesses were buckled and the massive twin T-700 General Electric Turbo Shaft engines began to wind up along with the appalling 50-foot 4-blade rotor system.
Upon reaching take-off output of 3,200 super horse power, the 8 ton, 50-foot long ‘big bird’ (as crew affectionately refer to) was airborne.
The flight course proceeded east over the rolling hills of Pine River township, before banking north and then west back across USH 51, the Merrill Festival Grounds and the heart of the city. The final leg of the hop banked south over the Wisconsin River and then east over Good Samaritan Hospital and the Marshfield Clinic before returning to Jay Stadium.
“It was pretty cool, a lot of fun” Asmundsen said of the flight, upon returning to the high school and the aircraft’s departure for Madison.
This summer, Asmundsen will depart for Fort Sill, Oklahoma for basic training en route to his chosen specialty of becoming an Army National Guard Field Artillery crewman. Hoy will be joining him at Fort Sill in pursuing his chosen specialty of High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HMARS) crewman. Sondelski will head to Fort Jackson, South Carolina for basic training, before undergoing specialty training next summer in Virginia in becoming a member of the US Army Band. Kleinschmidt will head to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri to pursue his chosen specialty of becoming a combat engineer.
*Special thanks to (Ret) US Army Colonel Paul Russell for his efforts in coordinating Foto News participation in Thursday’s flight.