Monday, October 4, 2010

PA’s Top Enlisted Man Started His National Guard Career in 104th Aviation

Command Sergeant Major Nicholas S. “Chip” Gilliland

His career in CH-47 Chinook helicopters spans three decades, but it took about three seconds for Command Sergeant Major Nicholas S. “Chip” Gilliland to decide on his most memorable mission in a Chinook. One long night in late January 1996 four Chinook helicopters from G Company, 104th Aviation Battalion flew to Williamsport to rescue residents from raging flood waters. In nearly ten hours using every rescue technique they knew, the G Company Chinooks rescued a total of 65 flood victims.

“We set the back end of the bird down on buildings and pulled people up the ramp,” Gilliland said. “We pulled people up with the winch. We set down wherever we could to save flood victims.”

Gilliland operated the winch. For most of the night he and the other members of the crew used night vision goggles and struggled against the rapidly changing weather that caused terrible floods. The temperature was almost 60 degrees during the day, then dropped to below freezing at nightfall and was ten degrees below zero in the middle of the night. Snow squalls hampered both rescue and refueling operations throughout the night.

The floods swept rivers across Pennsylvania causing 14 deaths, damaging 30,000 homes, closing 570 roads and destroying 8 bridges. But the act of rescuing residents altered the life of one of the rescuers

Gilliland is currently serving as Senior State Enlisted Leader for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. At the time of the flood, he had served for almost ten years, that included three years on active duty, two stints in the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR), a ten-month recall to active duty during Operation Desert Storm, finally joining the Army National Guard in 1994.

Then in January of 1996, the rescue operation showed Gilliland the importance of well-trained aircrews ready to respond in hours to a statewide emergency. Ten years after his initial enlistment in 1986, Gilliland knew what his life’s work should be.

He served in Company G until May of 1996 when he was hired as a CH-47 instructor at the Eastern Army National Guard Aviation Training Site. Since May of 1996 he has been fully committed to aviation maintenance. At the Eastern AATS he has served as an Instructor, Enlisted Standardization Flight Instructor, Senior Instructor, Section Sergeant, Platoon Sergeant, First Sergeant, culminating in his assignment as Commandant/Command Sergeant Major.

Command Sergeant Major Dell Christine, 2-104th Aviation, credits Gilliland’s leadership at EAATS with creating a culture of safety and thorough maintenance procedures that contributed to the enviable safety record the Pennsylvania National Guard Aviation has had on major deployments to Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Iraq. “The record speaks for itself,” Christine said. “We deployed an aviation brigade to Iraq 2009 and brought all the aircraft and personnel home without a major incident.”

Gilliland says the mechanics and flight engineers who were his first mentors taught him correct procedures. “They were careful, they went by the book. They taught me to do things right.”

From overseeing flight training Gilliland took a big step up in becoming the senior enlisted leader of 17,000 Pennsylvania National Guard soldiers and airmen. “We have 750 men and women deployed at any given time. Thousands in the last two years,” he said.

Maj. Gen. Jessica Wright selected Gilliland from many accomplished Command Sergeant Majors and Command Chief Master Sergeants in the Pennsylvania Nation Guard. She said, “Selecting CSM Gilliland as the State Command Sergeant Major was a clear choice. Though he was surrounded by several highly qualified peers, he stood out as the person for the job.  He is a technical and tactical expert.   Chip is also a Soldier's Soldier; he serves under the mentality that he works for them, the Soldiers do not work for him."

Gilliland’s office in the headquarters building at Fort Indiantown Gap shows at a glance the care and attention to detail that mark his long career. The plaques, certificates, flags and rack of coins that mark milestones in his career are carefully arranged. His desk is organized and clear of stray paper.

When his three-year tour as Pennsylvania’s Senior Enlisted Leader ends, Gilliland said he will retire. He plans to return to work in aviation.

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