Pittsburg State University ROTC cadets got up close and personal with three UH-60A Blackhawk helicopters — some of the U.S. Army’s workhorses — Thursday afternoon.

Pittsburg State University ROTC cadets got up close and personal with three UH-60A Blackhawk helicopters — some of the U.S. Army’s workhorses — Thursday afternoon.

The cadets also honored the members of the two Pitt State teams that took second and third places at the Army Midwest Ranger Challenge event in Fort Dodge, Iowa, recently. The teams beat out numerous Division-I ROTC teams from universities such as powerhouses like Nebraska, Iowa, KU and K-State.  The team captains were recognized by professor of military science Lt. Col. Don Stoner, and the cadets who competed received their Ranger Challenge tabs, which they can wear on their uniforms to recognize their participation in the competition.

The really fun part, however, was training. The cadets, some of whom will likely become pilots after they graduate and are commissioned into the Army, practiced “hot” and “cold” loading and unloading maneuvers  on the practice fields east of the President’s house. Loading a helicopter while the blades are spinning is considered “hot.”

The choppers are part of the Kansas National Guard’s 108th Aviation Battalion out of Forbes Field in Topeka, and regularly fly in to assist in Pitt State’s ROTC training.

After assembling on the practice fields, the cadets broke into three groups for safety briefings. Sgt. Steve Connelly is a Blackhawk crew chief, and basically runs the show in the rear of the helicopters.

“We do everything behind the pilots,” Connelly said. “We’re in charge of passengers, cargo, field checks, routine maintenance and inspections.”

Connelly briefed the first group of 11 cadets on the importance of wearing their helmets and securing their safety harnesses. But he also reminded them of a non-safety related, yet still very important guideline.

“If you start to feel sick let me know and I’ll get you an air sick bag,” Connelly said. “Otherwise you’re going to be cleaning it up.”

The exercise is part what is known as “crawl, walk, run,” drills, said Stoner, who is head of the military science department. On Thursday the cadets in the crawl phase of the exercises. If the opportunity arises in the spring semester, Stoner continued, they’ll be able to apply additional tactics such as forming a defensive perimeter after dismounting.

Stoner said his ROTC program is lucky to have great connections the Guard. Often, he said, ROTC programs have difficulty getting access to any “air assets.

“I’ve got colleagues that are Air (Cavalry) guys and even they can’t get air assets,” Stoner grinned. “They get mad at me.”

Sgt. First Class and crew chief Darren Lindsey has been in the military going on 27 years. He said helping train the cadets keeps his crews fresh. But it’s also another way he can serve his country.

“I enjoy helping these young officers,” Lindsey said. “I like seeing their faces and knowing that they’re learning the leadership skills they’ll need.”