Flight Student Third Generation At Fort Novosel
by U.S. Army Kelly Morris
Aviation Center of Excellence
October 24, 2023
For Warrant Officer Charles S. “Scotty” Niles, a flight school student at Fort Novosel, learning to fly an Army attack helicopter has become a family tradition.
Two generations before him, the late retired Lt. Col. Gary W. Niles completed training at then-Camp Rucker in the 1960s--back when the four-lane boulevard that now runs from the installation to the city of Enterprise was a dirt road. The Vietnam veteran flew multiple fixed-wing and rotary-wing airframes during his career, including the Huey and the Cobra.
Grandfather Gary also had a hand in writing the requirements for the AH-64 Apache ... the helicopter his son, retired Chief Warrant Officer 5 Ronald E. “Ron” Niles, a civilian helicopter flight instructor at the Directorate of Evaluation and Standardization, would fly during his career as a warrant officer, and now as a Department of the Army Civilian.
September 26, 2023 - U.S. Army Warrant Officer Charles S. “Scotty” Niles, a flight school student at Fort Novosel, joins his father, retired Chief Warrant Officer 5 Ronald E. “Ron” Niles, a civilian helicopter flight instructor at the Directorate of Evaluation and Standardization, with them holding a picture of their third generation family member, the late Lt. Col. Gary W. Niles, a retired Army aviator. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from courtesy photo by U.S. Army Warrant Officer Charles S. Niles.)
“I grew up watching him do it,” said Scotty, of his father.
It’s a statement that echoes back another generation, one that Ron easily might use to describe his own upbringing. The retired AH-64D/E IP/SP said when he was growing up, his father Gary would police up his uniform every day before he headed out the door to school.
“’If it’s not right, it’s wrong’,” said Ron, recalling a familiar saying of Gary’s, who passed away in 2002.
As for Ron’s mentorship to Scotty?
“We didn’t tell him he had to. We let him know what he was in for,” said Ron who, along with wife Shay, a native of the Wiregrass area, raised their children while facing a high operational tempo as a family.
Growing up, Scotty changed his mind a lot about what he wanted to do, and Hollywood had its share of influence on him regarding branches of service.
“Right when I was coming to the age to join, that’s when all the motivating war movies … like all the Navy SEAL movies were coming out around that time,” he said.
As a child, he was enamored with Air Force jets. In his late teens, he was interested in enlisting in the Marines, but Ron wanted him to go to college. One day Scotty surprised his dad, who was in Germany at the time, with a phone call to tell him he enlisted in the Navy.
As a Navy corpsman, he provided medical support to the Marine Corps Infantry, and deployed in support of Marine Rotational Force – Darwin (Australia) and with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard the amphibious assault ship U.S.S. Makin Island including to Singapore, Bahrain, Dubai, and Djibouti.
He also provided medical support to a Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency mission to Vinh, Vietnam, to recover the remains of a Navy pilot who was shot down during the Vietnam War.
Scotty still wanted to earn his wings in the Army, and after nine years in the Navy, achieving the rank of Hospitalman 3rd Class (E4), he left the Navy to become a warrant officer aviator.
“Dad was right all along,” Scotty said, of his father’s career advice.
Again, a sentiment that echoes back another generation of fathers and sons, as Gary had advised Ron, including informing him about the warrant officer path.
Ron said he always knew he wanted to serve, and still remembers the day when as a teenager he saw an Apache helicopter on the cover of a magazine.
“In the old days you weren’t allowed to look at the mail until Dad got home,” Ron said. “One day when I was fifteen, he finally finished the mail and I’m on the floor and he tosses me the book. After I read the article, I’m like, I’m doing that! What do I have to do to do that?”
However, life threw Ron a curve back in the 1990s when it was time for him to commission, and he suddenly faced the reality that the administration at the time was cutting the Army.
‘I said, ‘No! I am going to be a Soldier!’” Ron explained. “There was no other thing in the world I wanted to do.”
He ended up spending three years in the Army National Guard as a field artilleryman ... the same way his father Gary’s career started. Then, he learned about the warrant officer path, and made his way to flight school in the early 1990s to be a warrant officer aviator. Much of Ron’s active duty career centered around Fort Campbell, Germany, and the Middle East.
For Ron, the similarities between his career and his father’s before him are many. He and his father Gary both went to flight school, both became instructor pilots and instrument flight examiners, and both had multiple combat tours. The two generations also finished their active-duty careers at assignments in the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command. Their total time on active duty, which included attack aviation, was 26.5 years for both.
Gary, who retired just as Army Aviation was becoming a branch in the 1980s, was able to visit Ron when he was in flight school, and later on flew with him in an Apache simulator. Unfortunately, Gary didn’t live to see a special family moment on the flight line in late September when Ron not only visited Scotty during flight school, but was able to climb in the cockpit and be the instructor pilot for Scotty’s nickel ride, for the day.
The “nickel ride” is a long-standing tradition in Army aviation ... the student “pays” the instructor for their first flight with a nickel that has the student’s birth year on it. Scotty’s nickel is one Ron will cherish and represents the continuation of a legacy Gary would be happy to see.
“It was definitely a proud moment,” Ron said. “At the time, I had to turn off ‘dad’ and just be an IP for a time, because I had to teach. He did really well.”
The pair conducted the preflight, run-up, and demonstration flight together.
“It was amazing, a lot of excitement and relief, finally getting there,” Scotty said.
Reflecting on the program that led up to now, Scotty said the training is now getting to the “good part,” and he looks forward to flying and learning every day.
“It’s a big ole elephant,” Scotty said, indicating he will take it “one bite” at a time.
As Scotty pursues his dream now, he hears comments from IPs about the “big shoes” he has to fill ... a reminder of an Army aviation legacy he is proud of.
Those big shoes are part of the reason he didn’t want to pursue a different advanced airframe, like the Black Hawk.
“I wouldn’t be allowed back in the house,” he said, with a smile and a glance at his father.
“I think all of (the aircraft) are cool, but the Apache always brought him back home.”
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