Army CWO Fred White Took Flight Training After Mortar
This might just be the ultimate example of turning a negative
into a positive. When Army Chief Warrant Officer Fred White sits
down at the controls of a Black Hawk helicopter, he looks just like
any other pilot in his battalion. He wears the same flight suit,
the same helmet and the same air of confidence... the only
difference is that at the end of the day, his wrist might be a bit
White suffered injuries that led to the loss of the first two
fingers on his right hand in a 2003 roadside bomb attack in
Now an aviator and communications officer with the 3rd Infantry
Division's 2nd Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, 3rd Combat
Aviation Brigade, White was not always a pilot. He enlisted in the
Army in 2001 as a cavalry scout.
"I always wanted to be in the Army," he said. "Cav scout seemed
like a cool job. I knew I didn't want to be infantry, but I did
want to be in combat arms."
During the second year of his enlistment, White's unit became
attached to 3rd Infantry Division for the initial push up to
Baghdad from Kuwait in the beginning of Operation Iraqi
"There was a lot of fear and uncertainty when we originally
crossed the berm," he said, "but after that, it became more of a
The routine included route clearance, convoy security, vehicle
security, observation post setup and maintenance – "pretty
much anything that needed to be done in Sadr City," as White put
On September 5, 2003, that routine was disrupted. "We were
pulling security for the engineers that day," White recalled. "We
were on our way to the site, going down Highway 5."
As the convoy passed under an overpass, it was hit by a remotely
detonated 120 mm mortar round.
"It blew up my truck," he said. "I was the gunner, and the blast
threw me against the back of the turret. ... My driver took
shrapnel in the side of his neck; the (vehicle commander) lost his
left thumb and his right eye."
White -- who was hit by shrapnel in his hands, legs, face and
buttocks -- lost his fingers as a result of the attack. For many
soldiers, that would have been the end of the road as far as a
military career was concerned. But White, who fully recovered from
his injuries after less than a year, decided he wanted to be a
White said that although the doctor had cleared him medically,
the ROTC medic said he wasn't fit for the Army. "So I (turned in)
my warrant officer packet and was picked up for flight school."
Although there were some who tried to tell White he wouldn't
make it through flight training, he said, his injury didn't hold
him back at all. "Flying is more of a mental thing," he said. "You
have to be physically coordinated, but a lot of it's in your mind.
You have to think three-dimensionally to maintain control."
One of the controls in the helicopter resembles a joystick, he
explained, on the front of which is a radio control that functions
through a trigger-type mechanism.
"I just sewed up the first two fingers on my glove and changed
my hand position," White said, demonstrating how he wraps his wrist
around the control. "I was set on proving the people who doubted me
wrong, and I adapted so I could succeed."
White's battalion commander, Army Lt. Col. Alex Covert, was
quick to note the young warrant officer's success. "Fred is an
above-average UH-60L Black Hawk pilot," Covert said. "He has flown
over 150 hours in combat under the harshest conditions
Aside from White's skill as a pilot, Covert also lauded his
perseverance and devotion to his military career.
"I cannot describe in words what it takes for a young soldier,
... wounded in combat, to not only continue to serve his country,
but to take the initiative, become a warrant officer, an
outstanding Army aviator and serve as a (battalion communications
officer) in combat," he said. "His selfless service is clearly an
example for others to follow."
White plans to stay in 2-3rd Aviation Regiment, based at Hunter
Army Airfield, GA for at least the near future.
"All the experiences I've had in the Army have led me to where I
am right now," he said. "I have no regrets, no resentments. I know
I'm lucky to still be here, and I appreciate that."
(Aero-News salutes Army Spc. Emily J. Wilsoncroft, 3rd
Infantry Division's 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs