Did Osama raid pilots train in Gypsum?
May 3, 2011
GYPSUM, Colorado – Joel Best started wondering as soon as he heard the news: Do I know any of these guys?
Best, a colonel in the Colorado National Guard, has trained any number of military helicopter pilots at the Guard’s High Altitude Aviation Training Site (HAATS) in Gypsum. Best has spent a lot of time flying in mountainous territory. He was also in Pakistan in the last few years as an aviation specialist.
So Best has a natural curiousity about just who was flying the helicopters that flew a group of Navy SEALs into Pakistan Sunday to capture or kill Osama bin Laden.
While Best has his connections, as of Monday afternoon he didn’t know anything more about the mission than the rest of the general public. But he knows what it takes to fly loaded helicopters at high elevations at night. And he knows a lot of the people who can fly missions like that.
“The aviation community is actually pretty small,” Best said. And a lot of that community comes through Gypsum. At the very least, their training techniques are Eagle County-bred.
“There’s no mountain-type training (technique) that doesn’t come through HAATS,” Best said.
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And, Best added, the techniques used by the pilots on the raid will probably be incorporated into new training exercises at HAATS.
“I’m sure there’ll be plenty of dialog about the mission (Tuesday),” Best said. “It’ll be interesting to find out just what they did.”
While flying in the mountains can be tricky, doing that flying at night makes an operation even more complex, Best said. Again, the air group that flew the raid into Pakistan hasn’t been identified, but Best guessed it would have been choppers and pilots from the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, whose motto is, “We own the night.”
Whatever outfit the pilots came from, Best is pretty sure of one thing: They came from the Army.
“The Army’s chopper pilots – nobody’s better,” Best said. “And there’s no place better than Eagle for training. I’m thrilled we didn’t have anybody hurt, and I just couldn’t be more proud.”