Iraq War Veteran Continues Aviation Career In Coast Guard
by U.S. Coast Guard District 14 Hawaii Pacific
It was evening on the mess deck of the Coast Guard Cutter Kimball
(WMSL 756), as Lt. Cmdr. Donald Stiker, the cutter’s engineer
officer, looked sternly out at the crew and guests gathered before
him. Standing to his side was the Kimball’s commanding officer,
Capt. Holly Harrison, and the Master Chief Petty Officer of the
Coast Guard (MCPOGG) Jason Vanderhaden.
“I hate doing this
in front of the captain, the MCPOGG, our honored guests, but I gotta
draw the line,” said Stiker. “You know we are getting ready to do a
permanent cutterman’s ceremony tomorrow and as much as it pains me;
this really pains me, one of us wants to go aviation.”
Laughter rippled through the mess deck as Stiker turned to Fireman
Lonnie Taber, standing next to him.
“So from this point on,
Fireman Taber, you are dead to me, and because of that, master chief
had talked to me about a brand new uniform so I’m giving you that,”
said Stiker as he handed Taber a folded set of flight coveralls.
“And you're on the next flight out of here.”
The mess deck
erupted into applause that Taber, a prior service Army National
Guardsman and Iraq War veteran, was leaving that night aboard an Air
Station Barbers Point MH-65 Dolphin helicopter for Coast Guard
Aviation Maintenance Technician A-School to continue his long
aviation service to the nation.
Fireman Lonnie Taber with an Air Station Barbers Point MH-65 Dolphin helicopter on the flight deck of the Coast Guard Cutter Kimball (WMSL 756) off Hawaii
on March 12, 2020. Taber, an Iraq War Veteran, was leaving that night aboard the Dolphin to attend Aviation Maintenance Technician A-School. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew West)
Taber is from Claremore, Oklahoma, a small town about 30-minutes
north of Tulsa. His father owned a heavy equipment business and was
well known as being a wiz with machinery. Taber credits much of his
mechanical knowledge to the lessons he learned working with his
father throughout his childhood.
“When people need help
fixing a vehicle or a piece of machinery, they come to my father,”
said Taber. “He taught me many things, including instilling in me a
strong work ethic. I attribute the man I am today primarily to him.”
graduating from Sequoyah High School and attending two years of
college at Rogers State University, Taber decided he wanted to
pursue his interest in aviation. An opportunity arose within the
Army National Guard in 2007.
Taber enlisted and became a
15T, otherwise known as a UH-60 Blackhawk Repairer. After a year of
training he returned to Tulsa where he was stationed with B. Co.
“I was deployed to Tallil, Iraq with my entire
unit in September 2009,” said Taber. “Our mission was combined
between troop transportation from base to base around the area of
responsibility, as well as different air assault missions to acquire
vital intel and high value target acquisition.”
remained in Iraq until October, 2010, when he returned to Oklahoma
and continued his National Guard career. During that time he
participated in a number of missions including training flights,
aerial firefighting, rescue hoist, and disaster relief missions.
His unit would often respond to tornado disasters including a
time his crew flew then Governor Mary Falon to Norman, Ok, after a
large tornado destroyed much of the city. During his career in the
Army National Guard Taber racked up over 1200 flight hours on the
UH-60 airframe and achieved the rank of Sergeant.
“I got out
the first time in 2015 in order to pursue the idea of taking over my
father’s business, however, after about a year of working with him
in the capacity it became clear to me that that was not the path I
wanted to go down so I joined again in 2016 after almost exactly one
Taber signed on for a year long contract and realized
that working both a civilian job and being in the Army National
Guard was not what he wanted to do for the rest of his life and got
out again in 2017.
He worked two jobs between 2017 to 2018 in
the oil and natural gas industry but decided what he really wanted
to do was serve in the active duty military and went to work
considering all the branches.
“So after some research into
Coast Guard Aviation and the roles and responsibilities involved,
not to mention I would likely be stationed on the coast as opposed
to other branches, I settled with the Coast Guard, went to a
recruiter and started the process.”
He said he had to make
the difficult decision of starting over again as an E-3 due to him
being out of the service for so long.
To Taber Coast Guard
Basic Training was a different but familiar experience to him. He
said the main difference was how Army boot camp was much more
physical while the Coast Guard was more mental.
graduating Taber was stationed aboard the Kimball, one of the Coast
Guard’s new national security cutters.
“I never really
considered that I would wind up on a major cutter that would take me
where it did, that being said, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience,”
said Taber. “I found myself doing things I never imagined I would
and probably never will again.”
Taber worked as a member of
the Engineering Main Propulsion Division during his time on the
Kimball. His duties included assisting the Machinery Technicians
with maintenance on three diesel generators, two main diesel
propulsion engines, and the gas-turbine main propulsion engine.
He also was responsible for standing security watch, monitoring
oil and waste tank levels, cleaning bilges, and was in charge of
tool control ensuring the divisions equipment was properly tracked
The Kimball’s command knew Taber wanted to go
aviation and he was allowed to visit Air Station Barber Point while
the cutter was in-port. It was while he was there he put his name on
the Aviation Maintenance Technician (AMT) A-school list.
Taber first joined the Coast Guard the AMT school list was closed
because there were so many people wanting to join the rate. With his
heart set on going aviation he decided to put his name on the
Avionics Electrical Technician (AET) list instead.
working at the air station a number of AMT’s and AET’s learned of
his story and spoke with Senior Chief Petty Officer Shannon Brugh,
an aviation survival technician, of Taber’s aviation maintenance
background and how he really wanted to go AMT.
speaking with the AMT Rating Force Master Chief, Brugh informed
Taber of the steps he would need to make the switch from the AET
list to the AMT one. Brugh, along with Capt. Harrison and Lt. Cmdr.
Striker, worked with Taber to put his Rating Determination Package
together and for Higher Tenure Waiver.
Due to his prior
service, Taber was approaching the deadline for advancement before
being separated. His command aboard the Kimball worked to have him
fast tracked to A-School through a waiver.
“I was aware that
the attempt was being made to make something like this happen for
me, but I was not aware until that last moment that it had actually
happened,” said Taber. “It felt as though all my hard work on the
Kimball, and all the time I had put in during my Coast Guard and
Army careers was being recognized.”
His command decided to
surprise Taber with the news about AMT A-School while the cutter was
conducting helicopter drills with Air Station Barbers Point off
Hawaii and arranged for him to fly with the air crew back to Oahu.
“While it was hard work to get this done for Fireman Taber and
it was hard to see him leave, the Coast Guard gained a great
aviation petty officer,” said Stiker. “His hard work and dedication
helped get Kimball fully operational and I am extremely happy he was
able to fly away to bigger and better things!”
That night on
the Kimball’s mess deck was a fulfillment of his lifetime’s passion
for aviation. When he flew away from the Kimball that evening he
said he would soon be doing what he loved once again.
away from the Kimball on the MH-65 was once again, at the same time,
a familiar, but vastly different experience,” said Taber. “Being
onboard a Helo is nothing new to me, but flying out over the open
ocean, watching that cutter fade away into the horizon, with land
miles and miles away, was strange and awesome. It’s kind of amazing
to see that huge cutter that I had been living and working on for so
long, get smaller and smaller as we flew away towards Oahu.”
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