On 26 April 2013 the Colorado Army National Guard (CO ARNG) held a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new state-of-the-art training facility for the High Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site (HAATS) in Gypsum, Colorado, located at Eagle County Airport.
Planned since 2005 to replace the much smaller original facility, with its roots reaching back to 1986, work commenced on 22 September 2011, and culminated in a 101,600 square foot facility being completed. The old facility is depicted below.
The 101st Army Band from Buckley AFB was scheduled to attend the ceremony, and I was invited along to cover the proceedings.
Our ride into the mountains was to be on a CH-47D, which was already loaded with the larger instruments belonging to the band. After our pre-flight safety briefing there was time for the band to pose with the helicopter while the crew readied the airframe.
Looking at their faces, it seemed like this was first helicopter flight for some of these guardsmen and women and this became even more obvious when the crew performed hover checks before departure!
We flew low over the mountains, partially following the I-70, and for a brief period of time the rear ramp was lowered so that the people sitting at the back could get a better view and take some pictures.
An hour later we arrived on the new ramp at HAATS. This ramp has, at the very least, doubled the parking space available for helicopters, in comparison with the area that was previously available.
I took the opportunity to get some shots of the interior of the building before most of the invited guests arrived for the ceremony.
The facility is light, airy, very well constructed and extremely pleasing to the eye from an aesthetic point of view. It has also gained a ‘Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design’ Silver Rating, which is fully certified through the U.S. Green Building Council.
The facility has offices for the instructor pilots, multiple, large classrooms and a whole wing that includes comfortable sleeping quarters for visiting crews, which means that everything is self-contained and it is, to all intents and purposes, self-sufficient.
The official ceremony started with a special presentation to two veterans of the 10th Mountain Division, which originated in nearby Camp Hale. This unit is considered to be one of the first high-altitude units and Sgt. Dick Dirkes and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Dick Over, the veterans in question, both served in WWII.
After the posting of the colours and the national anthem, played by the 101st Army Band, the speakers then took turns at the podium.
First to speak was U.S. Army Col. Andrew Meverden, Colorado National Guard State Chaplain, who gave the invocation, followed by Adjutant General of Colorado, Air National Guard Maj. Gen. H. Michael Edwards. Eagle County Commissioner Sara Fisher was next to speak, followed by Assistant Adjutant General of Army, Brig. Gen. Dana Capozzella, and the town of Gypsum’s Mayor, Dick Mayne.
With such a mix of military and local dignitaries, it really drove home just how strongly the local community feels about the presence of HAATS in their area. As well as the high-altitude training, HAATS also performs the ‘normal’ duties of a National Guard unit, including, but not limited to, search and rescue and emergency evacuations.
Next up were two of the previous HAATS Commanders. Retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Joel Best, who’s been here since the schoolhouse opened, basically said, “this place has been my life.” Now working for Bell Helicopters, Joel related a couple of stories about how important and well-known this small facility is globally. These are better illustrated via the sound bite below.
The second Commander was Lt. Col. Joshua Day, now Director of Aviation and Safety, and who served at HAATS until very recently. Joshua must be extremely proud of all the work that has been put into this project over the past ten years to get the new facility up and running. Just as he was promoted away from the mountains and back to Buckley, the new facility was finally completed, so it was fitting that he was in attendance.
Everything is now in the good hands of Maj. Tony Somogyi, who has also been attached to HAATS for many years. In fact, most of the instructor pilots (IP) have been here for a long time, such is the passion and importance of continuity for a unique training facility such as this.
Maj. Somogyi had the unenviable task of introducing all the speakers and keeping the pace of the ceremony moving, which, once it was complete, was followed by the raising of the colours at the entrance to the new HAATS building, and the ribbon cutting ceremony itself.
Cutting the ribbon, but not all visible in my photo, were retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Joel Best, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Joshua Day, U.S. Army Maj. Tony Somogyi, U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. H. Michael Edwards, Sara Fisher, U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Dana Capozzella, and former U.S. Army Sgt. Dick Dirkes and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Dick Over.
This was followed by refreshments in the hangar and the cake cutting by Sgt. Dick Dirkes, formerly of the 10th Mountain Division.
I tried my hardest to get the last three HAATS Commanders together for a one-off photo opportunity, but it proved very difficult as they were all very busy, being pulled in all directions during the day. My flight was due to leave, but the Crew Chief on the CH-47D did a bit of quick thinking and found me a spare seat in a H-60 that was leaving later to fly back to Buckley AFB. Luckily this gave me the time to source the photo I was really after!
A full article on the operation at HAATS can be found in Issue 4 of Global Aviation Magazine, which is available from Pocketmags.